• Send page

History of the ICRC: founding and early years

Battle of Solferino, jun 1859

The Red Cross came into being at the initiative of a man named Henry Dunant, who helped wounded soldiers at the battle of Solferino in 1859 and then lobbied political leaders to take more action to protect war victims. His two main ideas were for a treaty that would oblige armies to care of all wounded soldiers and for the creation of national societies that would help the military medical services. Read full overview

Facts and Figures

Key facts

  • Dunant's four colleagues on the original committee of 1863 included a retired general, two doctors and a lawyer.
  • Although acting in a private capacity, they persuaded the Swiss government to convene the Diplomatic Conference of 1864, which adopted the Geneva Convention.
  • The first national society to be formed was in the German state of Württemberg in November 1863.
  • The ICRC gained acceptance as a neutral humanitarian intermediary during the wars that flared up round Europe in the 1860s and 1870s.
  • The red crescent emblem was first used in 1876 by medical units of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire, which was fighting a war with Russia.

Publications More publications