Looking Back: History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Looking Back: History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Today, Alcoholics Anonymous is the best-known recovery program in the world. Pick a city, and there are likely AA meetings happening there right now.

But did you ever wonder how it all began?

Well, contrary to popular opinion, things were fairly dicey early on. Without some good fortune, AA as we know it today never would have existed. Here's the short history of Alcoholics Anonymous and the people behind it.

Humble Beginnings

The history of AA begins with the Oxford Group, a non-alcoholic fellowship founded in 1928.

The founders of AA, Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. were both members of this group. Bill W., a Wall Street banker by trade, found sobriety through the group. He maintained sobriety by working with other members, with little success.

Dr. Bob, an Akron surgeon, was less fortunate with his group in Akron. When he met Bill W., however, he had a change of heart. He realized that alcoholism is a disease—not a moral failure.

Soon enough, Dr. Bob got sober and started working with Bill W. at Akron City's Hospital. They helped another man achieve full sobriety in 1935, and the three of them became the nucleus of the first AA group.

Twelve Steps of Recovery

By 1939, the AA group managed to produce 100 sober alcoholics. That year, they published a basic textbook titled Alcoholics Anonymous.

The book—later known as the Big Book—explained AA's philosophy. At the core of everything were the twelve Alcoholics Anonymous steps of recovery. The book also contained case studies of about 30 recovered members.

From there on, things moved fast. The Cleveland newspapers ran a series of articles and editorials about AA, resulting in massive interest in the group. By the end of the year, Cleveland's AA membership had expanded to 500.

John D. Rockefeller and his son Nelson were also big supporters of AA. They didn't use their wealth to fund the group, as they wanted it to be self-supporting. They did, however, help spread the word about it.

Later History

By the time Dr. Bob passed away in 1950, AA had over 100,000 members. In his last appearance, he urged to keep AA simple and honest.

Three years later, the group published Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. It included the complete framework of AA. This ensured that every group in every city could operate with the same goals and structure.

In 1955, on the 20th anniversary of AA, Bill W. gave custody of the group to the General Board. He passed away in 1971, and his final words were, "God Bless you and Alcoholics Anonymous forever."

By 2001, AA had over two million members. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were getting held in 150 countries. Alcoholics Anonymous Online soon became an option as well, adding to the group's popularity.

More on the History of Alcoholics Anonymous

For a group founded in 1935, AA's mission hasn't changed much over time. If there's one thing that the history of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us, it's that it will always have its place in the world. Just remember to keep it simple: one day at a time.

Want to celebrate your sobriety with recovery coins or tokens? You've come to the right place—take a look at our AA coin collection here!