The Red Cross emblem is a well recognized logo. It’s easy to identify: white background, red cross, and equal sides all around. Why that symbol, though? And doesn’t it seem to bear a striking resemblance to the Swiss flag? There’s a history behind it and you’ll be surprised to learn where it all comes from!
The founder of the International Red Cross movement was a man named Henry Dunant of Geneva, Switzerland. During a personal trip to Italy, Henry witnessed the grisly Battle of Solferino, a key moment in the struggle for Italian unification. He saw the need for medical help for more than 40,000 personnel and troops on both sides of the front. He brought together nurses and specialists to treat the wounded, independent of who they were fighting for.
This tragic event started a motion of events in Dunant’s life. First, he wrote A Memory of Solferino, his account and experiences of the war. The book proposed improved treatment to victims of war and a collective agreement among nations to recognize first aid personnel on the battlefield. He met with other delegates in what would later become the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to discuss his ideas and to adopt a symbol that was easily identifiable and universal.
In 1864, The First Geneva Convention was adopted and international humanitarian law was created. It was at the First Geneva Convention that it was decided that the universal emblem should be a symbol of neutrality to reflect the ideals behind it. If you examine closely, you’ll see that the Red Cross emblem is a reversal of the Swiss flag. Switzerland has long maintained an armed neutrality and this was a fair representation in the emblem. Additionally, a white flag is generally a sign of surrender or negotiation. Thus, the Red Cross logo was formed!
Bonus Section: Given the religious nature of the cross, the Ottoman empire later adopted the Red Crescent (still giving respect to the Red Cross.) For countries who wished to take part in the ICRC’s humanitarian efforts without adopting the background of the Cross or the Crescent, the Red Crystal has become a symbol to represent neutrality for medical staff as well.
You can also check here for a full history on the emblems of The Red Cross.