Home » AA History » Bill W

William Griffith Wilson 1895 – 1971

  • ‘Bill W.’ – Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Raised in East Dorset, Vermont
  • Alcoholic grandfather
  • Problems over his father’s drinking
  • Father moved away – followed by his mother
  • Childhood sweetheart (Bertha Bamford) died suddenly during an operation

Image – Bill W’s High School Picture

Bill’s birthplace – East Dorset, Vermont

Bill’s birthplace – the Wilson House

1st World War – Bill W. joins the army

Bill took his first drink as a 2nd lieutenant at the age of 22, despite the knowledge of problem drinking in his family

Feeling awkward at a social event in New Bedford, Bill was introduced to a ‘Bronx cocktail’

He instantly relaxed and introduced himself to officers and soldiers alike:

‘I had found the elixir of life’

1918 – Bill W. visits Winchester Cathedral during WW1

‘Much moved, I wandered outside. My attention was caught by a doggerel on an old tombstone’

The name Thetcher gets Bill’s attention – it reminds him of his old school friend (Ebby Thacher).

The gravestone carries an ominous warning – and is later featured in Bill’s Story in the Big Book.

Bill’s drinking life (1918 – 1934)

  • Studies law and engineering but attracted by the buzz of Wall
  • Returns from WW1 exhilarated by the opportunities in his life to come.
  • Develops a new idea for stock speculating and sets off on a tour of the East Coast. Travels with Lois on his motorbike to assess investment opportunities for his backers.
  • Very successful during the 1920s but spends more and more time in the bars and speak-easies around Wall Street.
  • Lois has several miscarriages and can’t have children.

Bill hits difficulties with his drinking and starts to drink alcoholically from 1928 onwards.

Bill’s drinking life (1918 – 1934)

  • The Wall St. Crash in 1929 hits Bill hard – leaves him $60,000 in debt. Bill seizes an opportunity in Canada but the company fires him for his drinking.
  • Returns to Wall St. with a damaged reputation so he signs a pledge not to drink in return for a business contract. Brief success followed by disaster when he takes a drink of Jersey Lightening.
  • Admitted to Towns hospital in New York and is treated four times by Dr. William Silkworth.
Dr. William Silkworth 1873-1951

Bill thinks he has the answer – but returns to the bottle

Bill leaves Towns Hospital in the summer of 1934 full of his new-found knowledge. Dr. Silkworth tells him of his theory that alcoholics suffer from an obsession of the mind and a physical compulsion. Bill feels that his knowledge of the allergy to alcohol can keep him away from a drink.

Still sober in November, Bill rewards himself with a trip to his golf club on Staten Island. He gets talking to someone on the bus and tells him how alcohol has brought years of torment to him and to those around him.

The bus breaks down so Bill and his companion have a bite to eat in a local bar. Bill is still sober at the end of the meal and the bus takes them to the golf club.

Bill continues to drink ginger ale in the golf club but the barman offers them both a drink in honour of the fallen soldiers of World War 1 – it was Armistice Day 1934.

Bill feels compelled to take the drink – and plunges into despair. Bill understands this later as insanity – an inability to see the truth when it comes to alcohol.

Bill’s experience on Armistice day is emphasised in chapter three (More about Alcoholism) by the description of three people who, despite full knowledge of their condition, find themselves defenceless against the first drink.

The home of Bill & Lois Wilson – 182 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY

Whilst Lois travelled into work each day (at Macy’s department store), Bill drank alone at 182 Clinton Street

His final binge lasted a month – from November 11th to December 11th 1934

His despair was interrupted by a visit from an old friend Edwin Throckmorton Thacher (Ebby).

Follow the links on the right of the page for more.

Founder Bill W
Edwin Thacher
Rowland Hazard
Bill's Spiritual Experience
Lois Wilson
Bill Wilson in Akron
Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith
Bill D & Sister Ignatia
The early years
The AA Traditions
Key people in early AA
When they died