It could be said that The Salvation Army's Collecting Kettle was born out of necessity. In 1891, Captain Joseph McFee made a commitment to provide 1,000 of San Francisco's poorest inhabitants with Christmas dinner. The problem was that he had no money with which to purchase the necessary food. He awoke early one morning with memories of his days as a soldier in Liverpool, where he saw what was known as 'Simpson's Pot,' a large stewing pot into which charitable donations were thrown by passersby.
Captain McFee wasted no time in securing permission to place a similar pot at the Oakland ferry landing. A sign across the top urged people to 'Keep The Pot Boiling.' It was an instant success, and the money needed to fund his commitment to provide 1,000 Christmas dinners was soon collected.
By Christmas 1895, the kettle was being used in around 30 Salvation Army Corps of the West Coast area. The idea was spread to eastern U.S.A. by two Army officers, William McIntyre and N. Lewis, who took the idea with them when they were transferred. In 1897, William McIntyre used the Collecting Kettle at the center of his plans for Christmas collecting in Boston. His fellow officers were reluctant to cooperate for fear of being ridiculed. Undaunted by this lack of support, McIntyre, his wife, and his sister set up three kettles on Washington Street in the city center. That year, in the U.S.A., over 150,000 Christmas dinners were provided for the needy, thanks to the Collecting Kettle.
In 1901, kettle contributions in New York City provided the funds for the first great Christmas dinner in Madison Square Garden, an event that continued for many years.
Today however, it is more usual for families to be given food baskets or grocery vouchers so they can buy and prepare their own dinners. The homeless are still invited to share Christmas dinner and festivities at hundreds of Salvation Army Community Centers.
From the creative mind of Captain Joseph McFee came an idea that has resulted in monies being raised to fund Christmas programs not only in the U.S.A, but throughout the world. Kettles are now used in Japan, Korea, Chile, and in many other European countries.
The folded card on the right was produced by The Salvation Army in the U.S.A. in 1991 to commemorate the centenary of The Salvation Army's first kettle. It was printed from an original work titled 'The Salvation Army's First Kettle, 1891' by Chicago artist, Donald E. Lidstrom, which depicts the scene at Oakland ferry landing, where Captain McFee set up his first kettle.