What Does the Red Cross Symbol Mean?

Red Cross symbol
The Geneva Convention formed the Red Cross symbol 150 years ago to protect medical personnel assisting wounded people on the battlefield. The emblem identifies the humanitarian services offered by Red Cross societies globally. People recognize the simple yet effective Red Cross symbol across the world as it's part of ambulances, hospital signs, and humanitarian volunteers' uniforms. The symbol represents comfort, hope, empathy, and protection during natural disasters or conflicts.  

What Does The Red Cross Mean?

The Red Cross is an emblem on a white background that flutters in the wind and holds many meanings for different people. While it represents hope and comfort for someone in distress, it may convey trust and strength for others.

Red Cross symbol
The Red Cross symbol often indicate First Aid supplies.


The Red Cross has the primary aim to offer protection to those in need and assist them whenever required.

Humanitarian Aid 

Although it started as an organization focused on helping wounded soldiers, its goals now vary and include blood banks, First Aid, water safety, and maintaining welfare centers, among other things.


The Red Cross aims to help those in need. The organization does not take sides in debates, fights, or issues. The people fighting must know they should not attack any person or thing displaying the Red Cross.


Even during the most daunting times, the Red Cross symbolizes positivity, light, and hope. 

What Is The History Behind The Red Cross Symbol?

The Red Cross originated in 1859. During the Battle of Solferino in Italy, a Swiss businessman Henry Dunant witnessed 40,000 wounded soldiers. 

He wrote a book called A Memory of Solferino about his experience. He started advocating a neutral organization to help wounded soldiers on the battlefield despite their political affiliations.

The National Relief Associations

In 1860, a Swiss committee planned the National Relief Associations. Later, in 1863, they renamed it the International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded. 

It focused primarily on war victims and became the famous International Committee of the Red Cross or ICRC. It expanded the organization’s scope and covered a range of peace and humanitarian activities.

Creating the International Red Cross

In 1864, the Geneva Convention and the first International Conference took place. Clara Barton, who had lobbied the United States government to ratify the Geneva Convention, also established the American Red Cross. 

The headquarters of the organization International Red Cross was set up in Geneva, Switzerland. They chose a red cross placed on a white background as their symbol, an inversion of the Swiss flag, and a white cross on a red background. It establishes the link between Switzerland and the organization.

The Red Cross now includes several institutions following the same values and goals. It’s the most extensive humanitarian network globally, with a presence in every country.

Red Cross symbol
Switzerland’s flag has the Red Cross centered on it.

Who Is The Symbol Used For?

There are two essential uses of the Red Cross emblem. The first is the protective use. For this purpose, it is a sign used during armed conflicts for international humanitarian law protection offered to medical staff, equipment, and buildings of the armed forces. 

This protection also applies to humanitarian organizations that work along with the military. They help the prisoners, wounded people, and even civilians caught in the conflict.

The second is indicative use. Organizations like National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across the globe can use the emblem to identify themselves as a part of the global network International Red Cross or Red Crescent Movement. 

Sometimes, people also misuse emblems during peacetime, which reduces the meaning and power of offering protection during armed conflicts.

What Does The Red Cross Do?

The Red Cross, called the International Red Cross till 1986, is a humanitarian agency affiliated with almost every country. 

It was started to offer care to battle victims during the war. Later, the national Red Cross societies came into being to help prevent and relieve human suffering. 

During peacetime, its duties include accident prevention, First Aid, water safety, and training nurses, aids, and mothers’ assistants. 

The Red Cross also maintains maternal and children welfare centers, medical clinics, blood banks, and other services. The name Red Cross is used in many countries for nominally Christian sponsorship, while the Red Crescent, adopted in 1906 during the Ottoman Empire, is used in Muslim countries.

Red Cross symbol
The Red Cross, Red Crescent, and Red Crystal are all intended to be signs of humanitarian efforts.

What Are The 3 Symbols Of The Red Cross?

There are three globally recognized symbols of the Red Cross movement. The symbols represent assistance during conflicts and disasters.

Red Cross

The movement adopted the Red Cross symbol under the Geneva Convention in 1864. The design of this symbol is nothing but the inversion of the Swiss flag to recognize the deep-rooted connection between the country Switzerland and the original Geneva Convention.

Red Crescent

Officials created the Red Crescent in the 1800s to avoid religious connotations associated with the Red Cross symbol in many countries. The emblem was formally accepted and recognized in 1929 during the updated Geneva Convention.

Red Crystal

Lastly, the Red Crystal symbol was established in 2005 to increase protection in specific situations where people might not consider the existing emblems neutral.

Interested in learning more about cross symbols? Check out this article on the Jerusalem cross.


Vanessa's liberal arts background has prepared her well for Symbol Scholar. A self-proclaimed theology nerd, Vanessa has interests in world religions, Reformation theology, history, and more. When she's not working, Vanessa enjoys spending time with her family, reading, exercising, and watching professional basketball.

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