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The Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous

Bill W. and Dr. Bob Started A.A.

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Updated July 05, 2014

Dr. Bob and Bill W.

The Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous

A seemingly unplanned meeting in Akron, Ohio in 1935 between two men, both of whom were termed "hopeless" alcoholics, began a program of recovery that has helped millions find sobriety and serenity - the fellowship known as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bill W. was one of those men. In fighting his own battle against drinking, he had already learned that helping other alcoholics was the key to maintaining his own sobriety, the principle that would later become step twelve in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A stock broker from New York, Bill W. had traveled to Akron, Ohio on May 12, 1935 for a shareholders' meeting and proxy fight, which did not turn out his way. At the time, Bill W. had been sober for about five months.

Drawn to the Bar

After losing the proxy fight, he found himself alone in a strange town and feeling depressed, according to accounts of the events. He felt himself being drawn to the bar in the Mayflower Hotel where he was staying.

Fighting desperately to maintain his sobriety, his immediate reaction was, "I've got to find another alcoholic."

There are conflicting versions of exactly what happened next, but the result was Bill W. ended up meeting with an Akron surgeon, forever to be remembered simply as "Dr. Bob," who had struggled for years with his own drinking problem.

The Founders Meet

The effect the meeting had on Dr. Bob was immediate, as he tells it in his own words, and soon he too put down the bottle (June 10, 1935), never to pick it up again. The bond formed between the two men would grow into a movement that would literally affect the lives of millions.

Starting in an upstairs room at Dr. Bob's home at 855 Ardmore Avenue, in Akron, the two men began helping alcoholics one person at a time.

It took four years to get the first 100 alcoholics sober in the first three groups that formed in Akron, New York, and Cleveland. But after the publication in 1939 of the group's "text book," Alcoholics Anonymous, and the publication of a series of articles about the group in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the development of A.A. was rapid. Membership in the Cleveland group soon grew to 500.

Alcoholics Anonymous Grows

The response was so overwhelming, the group found itself sending out members, who had only a short time in the program themselves, to work with other new members. This was a key point in the development of Alcoholics Anonymous. For the first time, the founders learned that recovery was something that could be "mass produced" and was not limited to the ground that they themselves could cover.

After a dinner in New York in 1940, given by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to publicize the group, membership soon grew to 2,000. An article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941 resulted in another growth period and membership in the United States and Canada rose to a reported 6,000.

The Legacy of A.A.

By 1951, Alcoholics Anonymous had helped more than 100,000 people recover from alcoholism, and by 1973, more than one million copies of The Big Book had been distributed. By 2000, the number of copies sold had reached 20 million and by 2010 more than 27 million copies had been purchased.

Since that time, the fellowship has continued to grow and has become worldwide. A number for Alcoholics Anonymous can be found in the white pages of virtually every local telephone directory. Now in the 21st century, members can also attend electronic meetings from any computer, cell phone or mobile device.

Dr. Bob died Nov. 16, 1950 and Bill W. passed on Jan. 24, 1971, but the legacy they left behind continues to touch the lives of millions.

Founders' Homes Designated Landmarks

In October 2012, the homes of both founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were given the designation of National Historic Landmarks. Dr. Bob's Home in Akron, Ohio and Stepping Stones in Katonah, New York were named historic landmarks by U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Oct. 17, 2012.

Dr. Bob's Home was the home of Dr. Robert and Anne Smith and Stepping Stones was the home of Bill and Lois Wilson.

Sites are given the landmark designation because they are nationally significant historic places and "because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States," according to Salazar.

Both homes have long been opened to the public for tours and each has its own website:

Dr Bobs Home
Known as the birthplace of Alcoholic Anonymous, it was here that many hopeless alcoholics, Dr. Bob included, made their first steps toward recovery. The anniversary of A.A. is observed each year on the weekend near the June 10 date of its founding.

Who Was Dr. Bob? | History | Photo Tour

Stepping Stones
This Katonah, NY house an hour north of New York City, is home to not only A.A. founder Bill W., but also to his wife Lois, who was co-founder of Al-Anon Family Groups in 1951. The annual June picnic at Stepping Stones was a tradition begun by Lois to celebrate the entire family in recovery.

Bill's Story | Lois' Story | Online Tour

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