William Booth, The Salvation Army Founder, was born in Nottingham, England on April 10, 1829. At the age of 13 he was sent to work as an apprentice in a pawnbroker's shop to help support his mother and sisters. He did not enjoy his job but it made him only too aware of the poverty in which people lived and how they suffered humiliation and degradation.
During his teenage years he became a Christian through the teachings of religious and political leaders, including Isaac Marsden and Feargus O'Connor, who, together with the teachings of John Wesley, were important influences on William Booth in his formative years.
When his apprenticeship was completed he moved to London, again to work in the pawnbroking trade. He joined up with the local Methodist Church and later decided to become a minister.
After his marriage to Catherine Mumford in 1855 he spent several years as a Methodist minister, travelling all around the country, preaching and sharing God's word to all who would listen. Yet he felt that God wanted more from him, that he should be doing more to reach ordinary people. He returned to London with his family, having resigned his position as a Methodist minister.
One day in 1865 he found himself in the East End of London, preaching to crowds of people in the streets. Outside the Blind Beggar pub some missioners heard him speaking and were so impressed by his powerful preaching that they asked him to lead a series of meetings they were holding in a large tent.
The tent was situated on an old Quaker burial ground on Mile End waste in Whitechapel. The date for the first meeting was set for July 2, 1865. Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among Booth's first converts to Christianity. His congregation was desperately poor. He preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead them to Christ and link them to a church for continued spiritual guidance.
Even though Booth's followers were converted, churches did not accept them because of what they had been. However, Booth gave their lives direction in both a spiritual and practical manner and put them to work to save others who were like themselves. They too preached and sang in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God.
To the poor and wretched of London's East End, Booth brought the good news of Jesus Christ and His love for all men. Booth soon realized he had found his destiny. He formed his own movement, which he called 'The Christian Mission'.
In 1867, Booth had only 10 full-time workers. By 1874, the numbers had grown to 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists. They served under the name "The Christian Mission" and Booth assumed the title of General Superintendent, although his followers called him "General". Known as the "Hallelujah Army", the converts spread out to the east end of London into neighboring areas and then to other cities.
Slowly the mission began to grow but the work was hard and Booth would 'stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck', wrote his wife. Outposts were eventually established and in time attracted converts.
In 1878, Booth was reading a printer's proof of the organization's annual report when he noticed the statement, "the Christian Mission under the Superintendent's of the Rev. William Booth is a volunteer army." He crossed out the words "volunteer army" and penned in "Salvation Army." From those words came the basis of the foundation deed of The Salvation Army, which was adopted in August of that same year.
The idea of an Army fighting sin caught the imagination of the people and The Salvation Army began to grow rapidly. Booth's fiery sermons and sharp imagery drove the message home and more and more people found themselves willing to leave their past behind and start a new life as a soldier in The Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army soon spread abroad. By the time Booth was ‘promoted to Glory’ in 1912 the Army was at work in 58 countries.