Monday, May 20, 2013

My share in the 1945 Red Cross War Fund

"I hereby subscribe to shares in the 1945 Red Cross War Fund 
as my contribution to the work of the Red Cross in disaster relief, 
prisoner of war services, home front activities, personal aid for servicemen, 
blood plasma, foreign war relief and rehabilitation."

share in the American Red Cross War Fund 1945
double-click image to enlarge

Contribute and share
Three words instantly stand out when you see the certificate above : SHARE - RED - CROSS. Its message can not be misunderstood and it is packaged as a share certificate. Yet the share is not a real one, it does not represent any kind of ownership in a company, nor does it entitle its holder any legal rights associated with it. This piece of paper was actually used as a receipt of a contribution in the American Red Cross 1945 War Fund.

Clara Barton founds the American Red Cross
With the emergence of the American Civil War, Clara Barton, born 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts, dedicated herself to aid soldiers on the front. Before, women had not been allowed in hospitals, camps or on battlefields. The military and civil officials refused her help. However, Clara, very determined, gained the trust of them. She began receiving camp and hospital supplies from all over the country. Soon she obtained assistants and nurses and even military trains for her work on the front. Know as "The angel of the battlefield", she practiced nursing on the battlefield, experiencing the horrors of war.

For health reasons, Clara Barton went to Europe in 1869 and became involved in the work of International Red Cross volunteers during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). She decided to bring that organization to America. On May 1881, Barton and her associates established the American Red Cross and she became the ARC's first President. Next she adopted the framework of the Red Cross to fit the needs of the United States not only during wartime but also in times of other calamities such as famines, floods, earthquakes, cyclones, and pestilence. The ARC undertook its first major relief effort aiding victims of the Great Fire of 1881 in the Thumb region of Michigan. In 1884 the Geneva Convention passed the "American Amendment" to include the concept of peacetime assistance. The first wartime experience for the American Red Cross was in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Clara Barton then sailed to Havana, Cuba, with supplies for victims. 

Clara Barton, circa 1878, wearing the Official German Red Cross Field Badge 
received from her 1870-1871 service during the Franco-Prussian War. 
Source : Wikipediaimage by volunteer B. Douglas, Clara Barton National Historic Site

American Red Cross launches a massive campaign at the end of WWII
In 1945, with the World War II nearing its climax, the ARC launched one of its largest campaigns ever. The campaign started on February 28, Red Cross Radio Day, with intensive radio publicity when War Fund messages were broadcast all day. On March 20, President Roosevelt broadcast a Red Cross message from the White House, his last public address over the radio. In 15,000 theaters about 80 million moviegoers saw Ingrid Bergman featuring in an appeal to give to the Red Cross, followed by a collection in the theater.
The publicity program, involving 4 million volunteer workers, produced and disseminated : 

  • 3,5 million booklets for volunteer solicitors
  • 35 million information leaflets for contributors
  • 1,5 million posters for billboards, stores, post offices, etc.
  • 84,042 advertisements reaching 2 billion readers
  • 2,5 billion radio listener impressions
  • 70 magazine features
  • 30 magazine front covers
  • 234 million movie impressions
  • speeches reaching an estimated 1,5 million persons

Movie star Ingrid Bergman,
in Red Cross uniform

Using the Wall Street momentum
Even though the certificate featured in this post is not a real share certificate, it is a nice and clever example of marketing the ARC's call for contributions. Early 1942, a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Dow Jones Industrial stock market index reached a bottom at about 93 points. From that moment the financial sentiment turned with renewed optimism of peace and hope for post-war reconstruction and prosperity. The DJI index started a rally, only pausing in the second half of 1943, and culminated at a peak of 213 points halfway 1946, as you can see on this chart. The ARC saw that stocks were in demand, so why not persuading contributors by means of a stock certificate, well, more precisely, a contribution certificate packaged as as share.

Share and contribute
A share yields dividends. In this case the dividend coupons are printed on the reverse side of the certificate. Each one of them contains a message in the form of a fact about the ARC's realizations in the field. Some coupons are provided with a striking vignette. The dividends were not meant to be clipped, instead they were meant to be shared in the sense of spreading the American Red Cross' message among other people. 

double-click image to enlarge

Visualizing distress and distress relief
The vignettes on the certificate, illustrated in a kind of comic book style, reappear on the rear side as illustrations for coupons number 1 and 6. Look at the strong image of dividend 6, showing the war prisoners. One of them is asking for compassion and understanding. The prisoner in the back looks angry and the one at the right shows contempt. As the guarding soldier turns his back, maybe he find it is hard to face the prisoners, the picture is full of tension.

"11,000,000 food packages and other relief supplies were prepared 
and distributed to American war prisoners in 1944" 

The image on dividend 1 shows a wounded soldier receiving first aid from a Red Cross worker (without the helmet). Without seeing the faces of the soldier companions, one can believe by observing their poses, that the wounded soldier will be all right.

"In 1944, 5,000,000 pints of blood were procured to save
the lives of American servicemen in all theaters of war."

Such strong and confronting images are seldom seen in scripophily. Clever, but is it art ? Well, that depends upon you. I once listened to a radio interview about art. I don't remember who the interviewee was, but this is what he said :

Art rips you up, and uncovers your inner self. Art learns who you are.


p.s. The American Red Cross has organized several of these War Fund campaigns during World War I and II. Do similar certificates for these campaigns exist ?


  1. Dear Franky, again thank you for your superbe blog stories. I suggest that you insert this Red Cross Story under Clara Barton, Wikipedia, there Weblinks. Its very easy to do this. Just register, write your text and lay the link over the text. I just made an experiment with German Wikipedia Gezeitenkraftwerk see here Weblinks and Blue Coal. It works! Regards Hans-Georg Glasemann

  2. Hello Georg,
    Thank you for the nice feedback !

  3. Thank you for your visit and comment Sankaraeye.