A short-term job opportunity takes Bill to Akron, Ohio. In the lobby of his hotel, he finds himself fighting the urge to join the conviviality in the bar. He consults a church posted on the wall with the aim of finding someone who might lead him to an alcoholic with whom he could talk. A phone call to Episcopal minister Rev. Walter Tunks results in a referral to Henrietta Seiberling, a committed Oxford Group adherent who has tried for two years to bring a fellow group member, a prominent Akron surgeon, to sobriety.
1935 AA Begins
A BUSINESS TRIP TO AKRON
Men on a Mission
Dr. Bob lapses into drinking again but quickly recovers. The day widely known as the date of Dr. Bob’s last drink, June 10, 1935, is celebrated as the founding date of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dr. Bob and Bill spend hours working out the best approach to alcoholics, a group known to be averse to taking directions. Realizing that thinking of sobriety for a day at a time makes it seem more achievable than facing a lifetime of struggle, they hit on the twenty-four hour concept.
1939 AA Big Book is Published
Publication and Disappointment
In April 1939, some 5,000 copies of the Big Book — titled Alcoholics Anonymous — roll off the press. After an anticipated Reader’s Digest article fails to materialize and a radio broadcast results in no orders, sales are few and far between. This disappointment foreshadows a bleak summer for the New York fellowship.
1941 Saturday Evening Post
THE SATURDAY EVENING POST MAKES HISTORY
The interest of Judge Curtis Bok, owner and publisher of The Saturday Evening Post, is piqued when he learns of A.A. from two Philadelphia friends. Bok then calls on hard-nosed reporter Jack Alexander to tell the organization’s story. The resulting 7,500-word article is published in the magazine on March 1, 1941, putting Alcoholics Anonymous on the map of public consciousness and spurring a dramatic increase in Big Book sales and membership alike.
1942 AA GOES TO PRISONS
A.A.’s PRISON GROUPS
A campaign for prison reform by Clinton T. Duffy, warden of San Quentin Prison in San Francisco, calls for addressing the special needs of inmates who had been drinking when committing a crime. Duffy seeks aid and advice from California A.A. members, leading to the formation of a prison group at San Quentin. The inmates hold their first meeting in 1942.
1944 THE AA GRAPEVINE DEBUTS
The AA Grapevine debuts
An eight-page bulletin intended to bring A.A. news to members (including soldiers overseas) expands to become the Fellowship’s official magazine, with the first issue published in June 1944. It comes to be called A.A.’s “meeting in print.”
Box 459 opens to receive mail
“About Your Central Office,” a bulletin distributed to A.A. groups by the Alcoholic Foundation, announces “As of May 1, 1944, our new address will be P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Station.” Box 459 will become both the post office address and symbolic address of Alcoholics Anonymous. In its early days A.A. is an organization that must rely heavily on communication by mail.
1945 Overtures from Hollywood
In the wake of the success of The Lost Weekend — the Oscar-winning 1945 film about a struggling alcoholic — three Hollywood studios offer A.A. as much as $100,000 for rights to the Fellowship’s story. The Alcoholic Foundation, fearing such films would amount to a violation of privacy, refuses the offers on behalf of A.A. members.
1946 The Twelve Traditions
One by one, A.A.’s Twelve Traditions developed by Bill W. are put into print for the first time. The medium for their distribution is The Grapevine.
1947 A.A. Becomes Self-Supporting
A.A. becomes self-supporting
Bill W. reports that income from the Big Book and contributions from individual A.A. groups have made the Alcoholic Foundation “self-supporting.” The idea of contributions grew from an estimate that all expenses could be met if each group were to send the Foundation a sum equal to $1 per member per year. Contributions were entirely voluntary, and equal service was provided to all groups regardless of their contribution record—a policy still in effect today.
The A.A. Preamble
In the June 1947 edition of the A.A. Grapevine, a statement defining the Fellowship and its mission appears for the first time. The statement, known as the A.A. Preamble, is quickly adopted by A.A. groups and becomes a standard inclusion in A.A. literature.
1948 Dr. Bob's Health in Decline
In the summer of 1948, Dr. Bob learns he has terminal cancer, leading him to shut down his office and retire from medical practice. In December 1948 Dr. Bob will give his last major talk before a crowd of A.A.s in Detroit, Michigan.
1950 A.A.'s 1st International Convention
In July 1950, Alcoholics Anonymous’ 15th anniversary is marked with an international convention in Cleveland, with some 3,000 people in attendance. One of the most significant events is the adoption of the Twelve Traditions. The convention, held at the Cleveland Public Auditorium (right), also features the last public message to the Fellowship by Dr. Bob, who stresses, in his brief remarks, kindness and “keeping it simple.” Nowadays, the convention is held every five years in a different location
1950 Dr. Bob Dies
Dr. Bob dies of cancer on November 16, 1950. During the Akron physician’s 15 years of sobriety, the Fellowship he started with Bill W. had transformed the lives of close to 100,000 men and women and their loved ones.
1951 General Service Conference
The first General Service Conference, orchestrated by chairman of the Alcoholic Foundation Bernard Smith, is held in April 1951 at the Commodore Hotel in New York. Bill W. later writes of its significance to A.A.: “The delegates . . . listened to reports from the Board of Trustees and from all of the services. There was warm but cordial debate on many questions of A.A. policy… [It was proved] as never before that A.A.’s Tradition Two was correct: Our group conscience could safely act as the sole authority and sure guide for Alcoholics Anonymous.”
1952 Al-Anon is Born
In loosely organized Family Groups, loved ones of A.A. members had gathered together and shared their experiences since the Fellowship’s earliest days. At Bill W.’s urging, his wife Lois moves to create a separate fellowship that will formalize these meetings. With Anne B., who had initiated a Family Group in Westchester County, New York, Lois sends a letter to 87 such groups suggesting that they unite under the name of Al-Anon. The response is positive, and Al-Anon Family Groups is born. In January 1952 Lois and Anne shift the growing organization’s office from Stepping Stones to the 24th Street Clubhouse in Manhattan.
1953 12 X 12 First Published
Bill W. becomes increasingly devoted to writing projects, one of which emerges as Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions — the book that sets forth his deepest understanding of A.A.’s basic principles.
1955 Big Book 2nd Edition Published
Second Edition of Big Book published in 1955
The second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous reflects the membership’s growing diversity. The chapters on A.A. principles remain the same, and eight of the stories of early members’ efforts to achieve sobriety are retained in a section called “Pioneers of A.A.” In addition, 24 new stories appear in two separate sections: “They Stopped in Time” and “They Lost Nearly All.” The Twelve Traditions are added as well.
Bill W. passes the torch, July 1955
The St. Louis Convention culminates with Bill officially handing leadership of A.A. over to the members. The resolution he reads is passed with a roar of approval: “Be it therefore resolved that the General Service Conference… should become as of this date… the guardian of the Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, the perpetuators of the world services of our Society, the voice of the group conscience of our entire Fellowship, and the sole successors of its co-founders, Doctor Bob and Bill.”
The Third Legacy
At the St. Louis Convention, Bill speaks of the Fellowship’s Third Legacy, that of Service. In his words “. . . an A.A. service is anything whatever that helps us to reach a fellow sufferer. . .from the Twelfth Step itself to a ten-cent phone call and a cup of coffee, and to A.A.’s General Service Office for national and international action.” Fifty thousand Third Legacy booklets (right), known today as The A.A. Service Manual, will be printed and distributed to A.A. groups.
1958 ICYPAA is Born
In late April 1958, the first conference for A.A.’s younger members (then defined as those under age 40) is held at Hotel Niagara in Niagara Falls, New York. “The A.A. Exchange Bulletin” (the precursor to the newsletter Box 4-5-9) reports that the purpose of the International Conference of Young People in A.A. (ICYPAA) is “to provide delegates with a thorough rundown of the application of our A.A. program to the individual difficulties encountered by young people in dealing not only with alcoholism but also with the other problems peculiar to their generation.” ICYPAA is held annually.
1962 Twelve Concepts Published
In 1962, the General Service Conference accepts Bill’s long-awaited manuscript for Twelve Concepts for World Service. In the introduction, Bill writes that his aim is “…to record the ‘why’ of our service structure in such a fashion that the highly valuable experience of the past, and the lessons we have drawn from that experience, can never be forgotten or lost.”
1964 Las Vegas Central Office Opens
A.A. members first gathered in Las Vegas in 1945 at Baskin’s restaurant for lunch. The “members” at that time were mostly professional men and they chose not to become an “official” AA group but met regularly and carried the message.
Around 1961, the 1st official A.A. group was established. The Downbeat Group met at the 7/11 on Fremont Street.
1964 ushered in the first official Secretary for the Central Office. Kathy A. served as secretary and it was a non-paid position at the time. Al-Anon was established around the same time along with the Samaritan House and We Care.
In 1984, Jack F. took over as the Office Manager as a part-time position and in 1990 the position became full-time.
1971 Bill W. Dies
At the age of 75, Bill W. dies on January 24, 1971 at the Miami Heart Institute in Miami Beach, Florida. On February 14, groups around the world hold memorial meetings honoring Bill’s work as co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, author of the Big Book and other publications, and architect and articulator of the Fellowship’s principles.
1973 Came To Believe Published
Came to Believe, a 120-page booklet published in 1973 by A.A., is a collection of stories by members who tell in their own words what significance the phrase “spiritual awakening” holds for them. One story describes, “I began to see another part of me emerging — a grateful me, expecting nothing, but sure that another power was beginning to guide me, counsel me, and direct my ways.”
1975 Living Sober is Published
In 1975, A.A. published Living Sober, a book of member experiences that describes methods of living without drinking. The material for the book was gathered in the early 1970s from group and individual correspondence of shared experience, then writers compiled it into a book. The book becomes a popular addition to A.A. literature.
1976 Big Book 3rd Edition Published
Thirteen new stories appear in the Third Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. By the summer of 1976, more than 1,450,000 copies of the Big Book’s first two editions had been distributed worldwide, and both a Braille edition and audio tapes have been released.
1979 Groups for the Hearing Impaired
By the spring of 1979, G.S.O. New York has listed seven A.A. groups for people who are deaf. Also listed is an international deaf group whose members communicate by mail. Box 4-5-9 reports that the use of non-A.A. interpreters, when necessary, “gives rise to the confidentiality question,” but experience has shown that goodwill on both sides usually puts the issue to rest.
1985 A.A.'s Golden Anniversary
A.A.’s golden anniversary
The Fellowship’s 50th Anniversary International Convention in Montreal in 1985 draws more than 45,000 members of A.A., Al-Anon, and family and friends — more than twice the attendance of the record-setting 1980 convention in New Orleans. Delegates from 54 nations give the gathering a truly international feel, and meetings in the Olympic Park Stadium are simultaneously translated into French, Spanish, and German. One of the honored guests is Ruth Hock Crecelius (a nonalcoholic), who is presented with the five millionth copy of the Big Book, the original manuscript of which she had typed almost half a century earlier when she was Bill W.’s secretary at their small office in Newark, New Jersey.
Joining the fold…
Fortuitously for A.A., two world-changing events coincide as the 20th Century draws to a close. The dawn of the Electronic Age facilitates communication between A.A. offices and, in turn, country-to-country sponsorship, while the transformation of governments in Eastern European countries allows A.A.s to meet openly.
Dr. Bob’s house opens in Akron
The Akron house where Dr. Bob and his wife lived and raised their children — 855 Ardmore Avenue — is opened to visitors in 1985. Much of the furniture is original (as is the still-working refrigerator, which Dr. Bob and Anne bought in 1934), and many of Dr. Bob and Anne’s books line the shelves.
1990 Seattle International Convention
Bursting at the seams in Seattle
Some 48,000 people converge in Seattle for the Fellowship’s Ninth International Convention in 1990, far exceeding the anticipated head count. The theme is “Fifty-five Years — One Day at a Time.” More than 250 standing-room-only meetings are held at Seattle Center and around town — at the time, the largest convention ever hosted in Washington’s largest city. Nell Wing, Bill W.’s longtime secretary and first archivist for G.S.O. New York, was presented with the Ten Millionth copy of A.A.’s Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, at a special ceremony.
1991 1st Native American Convention
“Living Our Traditions Through Sobriety” is both the purpose of Native American A.A. gatherings and the motto on the emblem they create (right) for the first annual convention for Native American A.A.s from the U.S. and Canada. Among the 800 attendees at the event, held in October 1991 in Las Vegas, are Native Americans from some 100 tribes plus representatives of tribal alcohol programs, halfway houses, and treatment centers. In ensuing years, Washington, South Dakota, North Carolina, and other states will hold their own conventions, leading to the fourteenth National/ International Native American Convention which will convene in Minneapolis in 2004. An annual event – http://www.nai-aa.com/
1995 A.A. Goes Online
With approval of the General Service Board, G.S.O New York launches a site on the World Wide Web on December 22, 1995. With a click, users can now instantaneously access information about the Fellowship in English, Spanish, and French. G.S.O.’s A.A. Web site is contantly evolving. In spring 1998, G.S.O. New York shares the experience of computer-savvy A.A.s when it issues a list of Frequently Asked Questions for A.A. entities looking to set up their own Web sites. In 2000 and 2006 “aa.org” will undergo major expansions.
2000 Millennium Milestones
Greeting the millennium in Minneapolis
Some 47,000 people celebrate freedom from the bondage of alcoholism at the eleventh International Convention, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the summer of 2000. The theme is “Pass It On–Into the 21st Century.” One memorable event is Walk-the-Walk, in which a stream of attendees from 86 nations walks the blue line laid down from the Convention Center to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on their way to the opening ceremony. The twenty millionth Big Book is presented to Al-Anon Family Groups in a special ceremony.
Al-Anon’s first International Convention
Forty-three years after its founding, Al-Anon holds its first International Convention. The time is July 1998, and the place is Salt Lake City, Utah. As the century draws to an end, 24,000 Al-Anon and 2,300 Alateen groups are meeting in more than 110 countries.
Membership tops two million. As the new millennium begins, A.A.’s worldwide membership is estimated at 2,160,013. Another membership milestone in the year 2000 is the number of groups, which for the first time surpasses the 100,000 mark.
Pole to Pole
Even alcoholics in the most far flung parts of the world — the Arctic Circle and Antarctica — have received the Fellowship’s message by the year 2000. With the support of Canadian groups, A.A.s meet in Baffin Island and other far-north locales, while members posted to McMurdo Air Force Base in Antarctica organize meetings for military personnel and others who come and go.
A North American milestone
In April 2000, the 50th General Service Conference is held in New York City. Delegates from 92 A.A. regions and areas in the U.S. and Canada, trustees, directors and G.S.O. and Grapevine staff members listen to reports and inspect finances, just as their counterparts had done half a century before. Conference delegates also tour the new General Service Office in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood.
Sponsorship Down Under
A.A. Australia, active since 1945, helps A.A.s in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, establish Khmer-speaking groups. The country’s service office also assists in the establishment of groups in East Timor, New Guinea, and other Pacific locales. The service office in neighboring New Zealand — which for years has translated A.A. literature into Maori (see Serenity Prayer at right), Fijian, Samoan, and other Pacific island languages — launches an initiative to carry the message to correctional facilities in 32 countries in Oceania and the Pacific Rim.
2008 Spanish Big Book Published
A new, third edition of the Spanish Big Book – Alcohólicos Anonimios – is published by A.A. World Services. This third edition includes 32 new recovery stories, three stories translated from the first edition English-language Big Book, and 12 stories carried over from the previous Spanish edition.
2020 International Convention
The 2020 International Convention will be held in Detroit, MI on July 2nd through July 5th. Visit www.aa.org for more information.
REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION BY ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS WORLD SERVICES, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.