Old English read "red," from Proto-Germanic *rauthan (source also of Old Norse rauðr, Danish rød, Old Saxon rod, Old Frisian rad, Middle Dutch root, Dutch rood, German rot, Gothic rauþs), from PIE root *reudh- "red, ruddy," the only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found. As a noun from mid-13c.
Along with dead, bread (n.), lead (n.1), the vowel shortened in Middle English. The surname Read/Reid retains the original Old English long vowel pronunciation and is the corresponding surname to Brown-, Black, White.
The color designation of Native Americans in English from 1580s. The color as characteristic of "British possessions" on a map is attested from 1885. Red-white-and-blue in reference to American patriotism, from the colors of the flag, is from 1840; in a British context, in reference to the Union flag, 1852. The red flag was used as a symbol of defiance in battle on land or sea from c. 1600. To see red "get angry" is an American English expression first recorded 1898. Red rover, the children's game, attested from 1891. Red light as a sign to stop is from 1849, long before traffic signals. As the sign of a brothel, it is attested from 1899. As a children's game (in reference to the traffic light meaning) it is recorded from 1953.
Red-letter day (late 14c.) was originally a saint's day, marked on church calendars in red letters. Red ball signifying "express" in railroad jargon is 1904, originally (1899) a system of moving and tracking freight cars. Red dog, type of U.S. football pass rush, is recorded from 1959. Red meat, that which is ordinarily served or preferred undercooked, is from 1808. Red shift in spectography is first recorded 1923. Red carpet "sumptuous welcome" is from 1934, but the custom for dignitaries is described as far back as Aeschylus ("Agamemnon"); it also was the name of a type of English moth.