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Alcoholics Anonymous – the early years

  • Bill developed the idea of a book but needed finance. His brother-in-law (Leonard Strong) put him in touch with the Rockefeller Foundation. Dr. Bob came from Akron to attend the meeting. They asked for $50,000 and got $5,000.  Rockefeller felt that money would ruin such a splendid organisation
  • Bill and his friends tried to raise finance so that they could print the book by issuing share certificates. The $25 shares wouldn’t sell until they had a commitment from Readers Digest to publish an article on AA

The Big Book

Bill was the main author of the Big book but his manuscript had to be approved by other members of AA

Care had to be taken not to endorse or offend any religion and the tone had to be about ‘suggestion’ rather than ‘direction’

Bill worried about writing Chapter 5 as it was so important to get it right

He was inspired one evening and scribbled out the steps in half an hour.  He counted them and he was happy that there were 12 – it reminded him of the 12 apostles

  • His friend Hank P. (an agnostic) contributed to the book with the chapter ‘To employers’ – the only chapter not written by Bill W.
  • Interestingly, neither God nor spirituality are mentioned in this chapter.

In order to finance the printing of the First Edition Big Book, stock certificates were sold to early AA members and others. Works Publishing, Inc. was the original name of AA’s publishing business.  It was later changed to AA Publishing and then Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.  These certificates were later purchased back so that AA could retain total ownership of the book.

An early idea for the book cover!

Works Publishing printed 5,000 copies but Readers Digest withdrew their offer to publish an article. The contributors to the Big Book stories were given 28 copies free of charge and 49 were given to the shareholders. The rest were left in storage.

The book wasn’t selling.

Then, in 1940, a reporter called Jack Alexander started to investigate AA and attended the New York and New Jersey meetings with Bill W.




Jack Alexander’s article – The Saturday Evening Post

Jack Alexander’s article was published by the Saturday Evening Post on March 1st, 1941.

Enquiries and desperate pleas for help flooded in from all over the USA.

Alcoholics Anonymous was finally established as an American institution.

Membership increased that year from 1,500 to over 8,000 alcoholics



Stepping Stones, Bedford Hills, NY Home of Bill & Lois Wilson

  • Married for 23 years, Bill and Lois had never owned their own home;
  • In 1941 they were lodging with any friends they could find and moved over 50 times;
  • Lois stopped one day and dropped her bags in Grand Central station. She cried her eyes out.
  • A generous AA friend then sold a house to them for $6,500.

Mrs. Griffith wanted no down payment and asked for only $40 per month.  Bill & Lois had a home at last.

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