Today, Alcoholic’s Anonymous turns 81 years old. June 10, 1935 is the date that is credited with the start of the program. On that day in Akron, Ohio a New York stockbroker, Bill Wilson (most often referred to Bill W.) met Dr. Bob Smith. Both men were helpless alcoholics. They were members of an organization called the Oxford Group. The Oxford group was a religious movement popular in the United States and Europe in the early 1900’s. The Oxford Group was set on principles of self-improvement from self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others. Bill W. had success battling his alcoholism with the help of the Oxford Group. His dilemma was that he could not find other alcoholics like him, that were able to stay sober.
On a business trip to Akron, Bill met Dr. Bob, who was a closet drinking surgeon. Bill shared with Dr. Bob his experience, strength and hope. He talked to him about what he was doing to stay sober. This left a profound impression on Dr. Bob. He seemed to have great relief to know that he was not alone. That he was not unique and that someone else knew exactly how he felt. This encounter helped Bill as well. Earlier in the day, he had the urge to drink and thought what he needed to do was talk to another drunk. June 10, 1935 is the day that Smith drank a beer so that he could steady his hand in preparation for a surgery he was to do. That would be his last drink.
The two men decided to dedicate their lives to helping other alcoholics. They started to help reform other alcoholics at the Akron City Hospital. The Oxford Group wanted them to have more of a religious approach. Even if it would turn off some alcoholics that were opposed to their ideas. They said that they were not trying to appease alcoholics, that they had been appeased their whole lives. Bill W. had expressed that alcoholism was a three fold disease. He “emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body,” according to A.A. The men wanted to focus on the fact that it was a spiritual program, not religious. Not tied to any particular religions. Two more groups of A.A. formed. In 1935, the second in New York, and the third in 1939 in Cleveland. The success of the program took off and grew and grew throughout the United States and Canada.
Although there are no official memberships numbers, it was estimated that in 1950, according to the A.A. Web site, by 1950, there were 100,000 recovered alcoholics worldwide. As of January 1, 2016, it is estimated that Alcoholic’s Anonymous has 117,748 groups and 2,089,698 members. AA’s stated “primary purpose” is to help alcoholics “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety“. It started with these two men, two alcoholics helping each other and others. There are no dues or fees, no outside contributions are not accepted. It is one of the largest organizations in the world and it’s members just give back what was so freely given to them.