History of American Volunteering

Adam J. Cheshier
5 min readAug 3, 2020

The history of the volunteer spirit in America is long and deep. As a nation, the United States has focused its efforts on helping others and improving their lives by creating a culture where volunteerism is valued.

History of Volunteering

The chronology below provides an overview of the development of volunteerism in the Americas:


1736: Benjamin Franklin sets up his first volunteer fire department. This tradition continues to this day as many small villages have volunteer firefighters who have a major impact on local communities.

1770: During the War of Independence, volunteers raised money for the war and organized boycotts of various British products (such as the Boston Tea Company), demonstrating their philanthropic and patriotic attitude.


1820: Religious rejuvenation during the Second Great Awakening begins in 1820. It triggered a wave of social reforms (moderation, abolition of slavery and women’s rights) and encouraged young people to engage in voluntary work.

1851: The current productive YMCA also began in the mid-nineteenth century, when a Boston sea captain saw how well it was working in London and decided to open it in the United States.

1865: William and Catherine Booth founded the Salvation Army, which was to become one of the largest volunteer networks in the country.

1881: The American Red Cross is established, which becomes one of the largest volunteer organizations in history.

1887: Another famous charity, United Way, is established in Denver when a local woman, a priest, two ministers, and a rabbi meet to form the organization.


1905: A Chicago lawyer founded the Rotary Club, where professionals can meet and find ways to bring something back to their community.

1915: A group of businessmen from Detroit, Michigan, founded Kiwanis International to bring communities and entrepreneurs together and promote volunteer…

Adam J. Cheshier

Documenting obscure pockets of the world across long-distance overland expeditions. Recently celebrated 7 years of nomadism. https://linktr.ee/adam.cheshier