The true beginning of United Way is a bit hazy because the organization is more about the concept of community organization than anything else. In the United States, groups began popping up to help out their local communities early on. Considering the size of the country and the limits of communication in the beginning of United States history, it comes as no surprise that communities were focused on their own needs and people. There were a lot of "boom" moments in the 1800s, including a mining rush in Denver, Colorado. In 1887, there were suddenly too many people with too few resources -- and a distinct lack of gold and silver. Right around this time, the United Way began to form.
It almost sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke: a Rabbi, a Catholic priest and two Protestant ministers got together to try to help the citizens of Denver who were suffering from the metal-mining fallout. Francis Jacobs brought these men together to form the "Charity Organizations Society." The group helped organize 22 different organizations and raised a huge amount of money for the time [source: UWW]. By casting a broad net, Jacobs and the group were able to set a precedent for future groups. They showed that working together instead of separately would help accomplish more in the long run.
Even though community-based charity organizations were popping up all over the place, it wasn't until 1970 that the name "United Way" appeared on the scene. The first group to use the name was located in Los Angeles, California in 1970. That same year, groups all over the nation formally adopted the name [source: UWW]. In 1974, United Way International was created as an offshoot of United Way America. In 1992, United Way International broke free as its own entity [source: UWW].
Now that you've learned about the history of the organization, read on to learn about United Way work in local communities.