From its simple beginnings in 1865 in the poverty-stricken East End of London, England, The Salvation Army grew rapidly during the 1860s and 1870s. By the end of 1878, The Salvation Army in England had more than 75 corps (worship and service centers) with 120 officers (clergy). In October of that year Salvationists (Salvation Army members) Amos and Annie Shirley immigrated to the United States and began holding evangelistic meetings in Philadelphia. Their daughter Lieutenant Eliza Shirley soon followed them. Repeatedly throughout 1879 the Shirleys asked General William Booth, The Salvation Army’s Founder, to send officers to establish The Salvation Army in America. In February 1880 George Scott Railton, the first officer to hold the rank of commissioner, led a group of seven women to expand The Salvation Army in Philadelphia and extend it to New York City and beyond. Soon corps were opened throughout New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In November 1880 Railton moved westward and began Salvation Army work in St. Louis, Missouri, probably seeking a more centralized location. In 1881, Booth called Railton to return to England and sent Major Thomas E. Moore to lead The Salvation Army in America. Much of Railton’s work was reorganized including withdrawing from the Midwest until 1885.

In 1885 Commissioner Frank Smith, commander for the U.S. at the time, gave Captain and Mrs. William Evans $25 to start Salvation Army operations in Chicago. The couple worked diligently to create a highly successful Salvation Army ministry in the Midwest. By 1899 more than five dozen corps had been opened in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri–the states which now comprise the Central Territory. One early Midwestern convert was 16-year-old Edward Parker from Elgin, Illinois, who became an officer and opened a corps in Janesville, Wisconsin. Parker later served as a photographer during World War I, was instrumental in initiating the USO (United Service Organizations) during World War II and served as The Salvation Army’s national leader from 1934 to 1943.

The Salvation Army underwent many changes during its first 40 years as states were added to the union and as the population shifted westward and southward. Initially, all states west of Michigan, Indiana and the Mississippi River were designated the Department of the West. The creation of this department in 1905, with headquarters in Chicago, was a forecast of growth and expansion for the Army. Continuing to grow, The Salvation Army subdivided the country into the Eastern, Central and Western territories by 1920. Six years later, the Central and Eastern territories were so large they divided once again, creating the fourth U.S. territory, the Southern Territory. With a more concentrated geographical area The Salvation Army’s work in the Midwest flourished.

From its early years The Salvation Army began many social service programs which have shaped its ministry and identity up to the present. In 1888 the first Midwestern rescue home for unwed mothers was opened in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Later The Salvation Army operated hospitals for unwed mothers throughout the country. These hospitals were phased out in the 1980s due to changing mores and increasingly costly demands for hospital administration. Also in the 1880s, The Salvation Army established hotels for homeless men, allowing them to pay a few cents per night for warm, safe lodging. These hotels developed into a comprehensive alcoholic recovery programs by 1897 and now are known as harbor light centers and adult rehabilitation centers. During the Great Depression, The Salvation Army opened large feeding centers in major metropolitan areas, feeding thousands of people per day despite a decline in donations. Today, food pantries and feeding programs continue to operate throughout the Central Territory.

Music has been an integral part of The Salvation Army from its very beginning. When Commissioner George Scott Railton and the seven women officers stepped off the ship in New York Harbor they sang hymns to attract a crowd and announce The Salvation Army’s arrival in the United States. Music frequently has been used in The Salvation Army to attract attention, communicate the message of the gospel and bring an air of enthusiasm to Salvation Army meetings. Singing and/or performing instrumental music on street corners has become a hallmark of The Salvation Army. The first officially recognized Salvation Army brass band in the United States was in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This band also holds the distinction of having the first U.S. bandmaster (conductor), drummer and drum major. Although The Salvation Army continues its tradition of brass bands, many Salvation Army corps also have developed contemporary bands, choral groups, interpretive dance troupes and other modern musical expressions to keep pace with the country’s changing culture and musical tastes.