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AA celebrates its origin--
Bill W.'s meeting with Dr. Bob

On May 11, 1935, Bill W. encountered a threat to his newfound sobriety. During a
business trip to Ohio, he found himself standing in the lobby of a hotel, craving a drink. With growing anxiety he contemplated his options.

Bill narrowed his choices to two: order a cocktail in the hotel bar or call another recovering alcoholic and ask for help in staying sober.

Bill knew that this choice came with high stakes. As an alcoholic who had nearly drunk himself to death, he'd endured four hospital stays for "detox." During his last visit he'd hit bottom and cried out for divine mercy: "If there be a God, let him show himself." At that moment, Bill felt a white light blaze through his hospital room. He was seized with "an ecstasy beyond description" and concluded that he was free from any need for alcohol.

But there was no divine blaze in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel in Akron -- only the dim lights of the bar and the lure of a drink.

Pacing through the lobby, Bill passed the bar and found a church directory. Within minutes he was on the phone with a local minister. A series of calls put him in touch with an alcoholic surgeon named Dr. Bob. Bill arranged to visit the doctor at home.

Dr. Bob initially agreed to see Bill for only 15 minutes, but their meeting lasted for hours. Bill simply told of his drinking history and Bob identified with it immediately. Bill thanked Bob for hearing him out -- for his fellowship. "I know now that I'm not going to take another drink," Bill said, "and I'm grateful to you."

But the relationship did not end there. Bill stayed with Dr. Bob for the next three weeks. Through their friendship, Dr. Bob also gained sobriety. The surgeon never took another drink after June 10, 1935. That day -- Dr. Bob's "dry date" -- is officially counted as the start of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bill and Bob began working with other alcoholics, helping them achieve sobriety one day at a time. Four years later, they published the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which explained their Twelve Step program of recovery.

Articles about AA started appearing in the popular press, and the group's membership swelled. In 1950, the year of AA's first International Convention, there were about 3,500 member groups.

Today, over 98,000 groups across the world are registered with AA's General Service Office; AA's international membership stands at nearly two million.

AA is the first therapeutic social movement dealing with alcoholism that's outlived its founders and keeps expanding.  AA's longevity stems from three factors:

By combining this creative structure with individual freedom of interpretation, AA keeps growing. Originally seen as an enclave of white Christian males, the organization now embraces women, people of color, agnostics and even atheists. And in the core principles of Twelve Step recovery, such as telling the truth, asking for help, and making amends, people keep discovering universal aspects of healing.

Two new biographies of Bill W., including his autobiography, Bill W.: My First 40 Years, have been published by Hazelden. For more information on these and other AA historical items, visit Hazelden's online bookstore or call 1-888-535-9485.


The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.

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