Emblem Abuse: “Red Cross” Gin

Date / Period
Object Type
Fundraising and Communications

Under both Canadian and international law, the Geneva-style red cross emblem is a protected symbol. It is used to indicate the neutrality of medical personnel in war zones, and/or to indicate the wearer is working on behalf of an official Red Cross society. As this artifact suggests, however, sometimes the emblem or the Red Cross name are misused.

After the Canadian Red Cross was reorganized and incorporated in 1909, its leaders began a deliberate campaign to educate the public about the proper uses of the emblem. They identified misuses of the name or emblem ranging from steamship lines to cleaning products to liquor. For example, the Walla Galla Tea Co. (with a “red cross on every package”), the Red Cross Pharmacy, the Red Cross School of Nursing, and Melcher’s Red Cross Canadian Gin all appear in 1900-1910 Canadian newspaper advertisements. 

Each individual or company had to be contacted and informed about the emblem’s legal protection, and asked to bring their practice in line with the law. Some of these early misusers resisted, but most complied as soon as they understood the importance of doing so. The emblem’s power to protect its wearers in dangerous situations rests on its use being restricted to people, places, items, and activities truly affiliated with or approved by the humanitarian Red Cross movement.

Today, the Canadian Red Cross continues to educate the public and monitor the use and misuse of the red cross emblem. Common misuses in the early twenty-first century include business logos and marketing materials, music videos and games, and items or locations related to first aid or medical care.  

Emblem Abuse: “Red Cross” Gin

Emblem Abuse: “Red Cross” Gin
Advertisement for Melcher’s Red Cross Gin found in Globe & Mail [1911]
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Red Cross pamphlet, late 20th century

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