Washington, DC - The American Red Cross helps millions of people in their battle back to good health every year through its Blood Services program.

Each year, the Red Cross collected approximately 4.9 million units of blood from more than 2.8 million volunteer donors. These donations are then processed into 6.7 million blood products for transfusion to meet the needs of patients at approximately 2,600 hospitals across the country.

Answering the Call

American Red Cross Blood Services began during World War II. England was facing possible invasion and officials realized massive quantities of blood would be needed for both the military and civilians. The U.S. Armed Forces asked the Red Cross to create and operate a national blood donor program to collect blood for shipment to the British Isles. To assist in this effort, the first bloodmobile visited the Farmingdale, New York Red Cross Chapter on March 10, 1941.

After the war, few hospitals had blood banks. Many relied on direct transfusion from donor to patient. In 1947, the Red Cross approved the introduction of the first national civilian blood program, the largest peacetime health project undertaken by the organization. A year later in 1948, the first regional blood center opened in Rochester, New York.

Leading in Research

Red Cross Blood Services began to focus on research with the establishment of its laboratories during the 1960s. A small lab in Washington, D.C. was expanded to study how to better preserve blood components; a lab was established in Los Angeles to work on automated blood grouping; and a lab was established at New York University to develop a product to help people with hemophilia.

During the 1970s, Red Cross scientists developed methods to freeze red blood cells and developed testing for hepatitis B. Processes were developed to test blood for purity and a uniform bar code was developed to identify blood products. At the same time, apheresis became a part of the blood program, an effort to collect platelets which continues today. In 1987, the Holland Laboratory opened in Rockville, Maryland to house Red Cross research and development programs.

Leading the way, the Red Cross was among the first to develop and implement testing for many infectious diseases. The Red Cross also operates the first-of-its-kind nationwide hemovigilance program to examine donor and patient adverse reactions. Data from the program is collected and used today to enhance blood product quality and safety.

Helping Patients Today

Today Red Cross Blood Services collects and distributes about 40 percent of the nation's blood supply. The need for blood is constant. Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion.

Eligible individuals can make an appointment to give by using the Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org  or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Our free Blood Donor App lets you schedule donation appointments, track your total donations, find blood drives and much more. This exciting app is available for download on iPhone® and Android™ devices. Donors can also save up to 15 minutes at the blood drive by completing a RapidPass. With RapidPass, donors complete the pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of donation, from a mobile device or computer. To complete a RapidPass, follow the instructions at redcrossblood.org/RapidPass  or use the Blood Donor App.

In most states, individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.