Remembering the Founder of the Red Cross

On May 8, 1828, Founder of the Red Cross Jean Henri Dunant (also known as Henry Dunant) was born.

During a business trip in 1859, he was witness to the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in modern-day Italy. The Swiss businessman recorded his memories and experiences in the book A Memory of Solferino which inspired the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863.

The 1864 Geneva Convention was based on Dunant’s ideas.

In 1901 he received the first Nobel Peace Prize together with Frédéric Passy.


Henry Dunant, Founder of the Red Cross


Andrew Marshall writes that life was not always easy for him.  “A decade that for Dunant began with triumph — in 1864, a year after the creation of the Red Cross, 12 governments adopted the first Geneva Convention — ended in disaster. His neglected business affairs collapsed, pauperizing him and wiping out investments by many friends and relatives. Bankrupt, he resigned from the International Committee in 1867 and left Geneva in shame, never to return. “Everything broke down around me, everything went dark,” he wrote. He lived in a handful of countries over the next two decades, a fugitive from his creditors. Once, at a speech in the British city of Plymouth, he fainted, apparently due to hunger.

Settling in Heiden, ill-health brought him to Dr. Altherr’s attention. But it was a 1895 article by a Swiss journalist which reintroduced Dunant to the world. “Without you, the Red Cross, the supreme humanitarian achievement of the nineteenth century would probably have never been undertaken,” read the citation for his Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with the French pacifist Frédéric Passy. Dunant had his prize money administered from Norway, so that his creditors couldn’t get it.

His death didn’t sever Heiden’s connection with the Red Cross. Consider this curious postscript. The year is 1944. With war in Europe raging to a close, a Heiden woman called Claire Kellenberger gives birth in the same hospital building in which Dunant drew his last breath. It is a boy. She calls him Jakob. Today, he is president of the ICRC.”

written by Andrew Marshall / Heiden and Simon Bradley of Swiss info, excerpts from Wikipedia