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the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" came about
W. speaking in Fort Worth, Texas -1954
I think Iím on the bill for tonightís show with a talk on
the 12 Traditions of A.A. But you know drunks, like women,
have the prerogative, or at least seize the prerogative
of changing their minds - Iím not going to make any such
For something very festive I think the Traditions 1-12 would
be a little too grim, might bore you a little. As a matter
of fact, speaking of Traditions, when they were first written
back there in 1945 or 1946 as tentative guides to help us
hang together and function, nobody paid any attention except
a few "againsters" who wrote me and asked what
the hell are they about?
Nobody paid the slightest attention. But, little by little
as these Traditions got around we had our clubhouse squabbles,
our little rifts, this difficulty and that, it was found
that the Traditions indeed did reflect experience and were
So, they took hold a little more and a little more and a
little more so that today the average A.A. coming in the
door learns at once what theyíre about, about what kind
of an outfit he really has landed in and by what principles
his group and A.A. as a whole are governed.
But, as I say, the dickens with all that. I would like to
just spin some yarn and they will be a series of yarns which
cluster around the preparation of the good old A.A. bible
and when I hear that it always makes me shudder because
the guys who put it together werenít a damn bit biblical.
I think sometimes some of the drunks have an idea that these
old timers went around with almost visible halos and long
gowns and they were full of sweetness and light. Oh boy,
how inspired they were, oh yes. But wait till I tell you.
I suppose the book yarn really started in the living room
of Doc and Annie S. As you know, I landed there in the summer
of Ď35, a little group caught hold. I helped Smithy briefly
with it and he went on to found the first A.A. group in
the world. And, as with all new groups, it was nearly all
failure, but now and then, somebody saw the light and there
Pampered, I got back to New York, a little more experienced
group started there, and by the time we got around to 1937,
this thing had leaped over into Cleveland, and began to
move south from New York. But, it was still, we thought
in those years, flying blind, a flickering candle indeed,
that might at any moment be snuffed out.
So, on this late fall afternoon in 1937, Smithy and I were
talking together in his living room, Anne sitting there,
when we began to count noses. How many people had stayed
dry; in Akron, in New York, maybe a few in Cleveland? How
many had stayed dry and for how long? And when we added
up the total, it sure was a handful of, I donít know, 35
to 40 maybe. But enough time had elapsed on enough really
fatal cases of alcoholism, so that we grasped the importance
of these small statistics.
Bob and I saw for the first time that this thing was going
to succeed. That God in his providence and mercy had thrown
a new light into the dark caves where we and our kind had
been and were still by the millions dwelling. I can never
forget the elation and ecstasy that seized us both. And
when we sat happily talking and reflecting, we reflected,
that well, a couple of score of drunks were sober but this
had taken three long years.
There had been an immense amount of failure and a long time
had been taken just to sober up the handful. How could this
handful carry itsí message to all those who still didnít
know? Not all the drunks in the world could come to Akron
or New York.
But how could we transmit our message to them, and by what
means? Maybe we could go to the old timers in each group,
but that meant nearly everybody, to find the sum of money
- somebody elseís money, of course - and say to them "Well
now, take a sabbatical year off your job if you have one,
and you go to Kentucky, Omaha, Chicago, San Francisco and
Los Angeles and wherever it may be and you give this thing
a year and get a group started."
It had already become evident by then that we were just
about to be moved out of the City Hospital in Akron to make
room for people with broken legs and ailing livers; that
the hospitals were not too happy with us. We tried to run
their business perhaps too much, and besides, drunks were
apt to be noisy in the night and there were other inconveniences,
which were all tremendous. So, it was obvious that because
of drunks being such unlovely creatures, we would have to
have a great chain of hospitals. And as that dream burst
upon me, it sounded good, because you see, Iíd been down
in Wall Street in the promotion business and I remember
the great sums of money that were made as soon as people
got this chain idea. You know, chain drug stores, chain
grocery stores, chain dry good stores.
That evening Bob and I told them that we were within sight
of success and that we thought this thing might go on and
on and on, that a new light indeed was shining in our dark
world. But how could this light be a reflection and transmitted
without being distorted and garbled?
At this point, they turned the meeting over to me, and being
a salesman, I set right to work on the drunk tanks and subsidies
for the missionaries, I was pretty poor then.
We touched on the book. The group conscience consisted of
18 men good and true ... and the good and true men, you
could see right away, were dammed skeptical about it all.
Almost with one voice, they chorused "letís keep it
simple, this is going to bring money into this thing, this
is going to create a professional class. Weíll all be ruined."
"Well," I countered, "Thatís a pretty good
argument. Lots to what you say ... but even within gunshot
of this very house, alcoholics are dying like flies. And
if this thing doesnít move any faster than it has in the
last three years, it may be another 10 before it gets to
the outskirts of Akron. How in Godís name are we going to
carry this message to others? Weíve got to take some kind
of chance. We canít keep it so simple it becomes an anarchy
and gets complicated. We canít keep it so simple that it
wonít propagate itself, and weíve got to have a lot of money
to do these things."
So, exerting myself to the utmost, which was considerable
in those days, we finally got a vote in that little meeting
and it was a mighty close vote by just a majority of maybe
2 or 3. The meeting said with some reluctance, "Well
Bill, if we need a lot of dough, you better go back to New
York where thereís plenty of it and you raise it."
Well, boy, that was the word that Iíd been waiting for.
So I scrammed back to the great city and I began to approach
some people of means describing this tremendous thing that
had happened. And it didnít seem so tremendous to the people
of means at all.
What? 35 or 40 drunks sober up? They have sobered them up
before now, you know. And besides, Mr. Bill W., donít you
think itís kind of sweeping up the shavings? I mean, wouldnít
this be something for the Red Cross be better?
In other words, with all of my ardent solicitations, I got
one hell of a freeze from the gentlemen of wealth. Well,
I began to get blue and when I begin to get blue my stomach
kicks up as well as other things.
I was laying in the bed one night with an imaginary ulcer
attack (this used to happen all the time - I had one the
time the 12 steps were written) and I said, "My God,
weíre starving to death here on Clinton Street." By
this time the house was full of drunks. They were eating
us out of house and home. In those days we never believed
in charging anybody anything - so Lois was earning the money,
I was being the missionary and the drunks were eating the
meals. "This canít go on. Weíve got to have those drunk
tanks, weíve got to have those missionaries, and weíve got
to have a book. Thatís for sure."
The next morning I crawled into my clothes and I called
on my brother-in-law. Heís a doctor and he is about the
last person who followed my trip way down. The only one,
save of course, the Lord. "Well," I said, "Iíll
go up and see Leonard."
So I went up to see my brother-in-law Leonard and he pried
out a little time between patients coming in there. I started
my awful bellyache about these rich guys who wouldnít give
us any dough for this great and glorious enterprise. It
seemed to me he knew a girl and I think she had an uncle
that somehow tied up with the Rockefeller offices. I asked
him to call and see if there was such a man and if there
was, would he see us. On what slender threads our destiny
So, the call was made. Instantly there came onto the other
end of the wire the voice of dear Willard Richardson - one
of the loveliest Christian gentlemen I have ever known.
And the moment he recognized my brother-in-law he said,
"Why Leonard, where have you been all these years?
"Well, my brother-in-law, unlike me, is a man of very
few words, so he quickly said to dear old Uncle Willard,
he had a brother-in-law who had apparently some success
sobering up drunks and could the two of us come over there
and see him. "Why certainly," said dear Willard.
"Come right over."
So we go over to Rockefeller Plaza. We go up that elevator
- 54 flights or 56 I guess it was, and we walk promptly
into Mr. Rockefellerís personal offices, and ask to see
Here sits this lovely, benign old gentleman, who nevertheless
had a kind of shrewd twinkle in his eye. So I sat down and
told him about our exciting discovery, this terrific cure
for alcoholics that had just hit the world, how it worked
and what we have done for them. And, boy, this was the first
receptive man with money or access to moneyóremember we
were in Mr. Rockefellerís personal offices at this pointóand
by now, we had learned that this was Mr. Rockefellerís closest
So he said, "Iím very interested. Would you like to
have lunch with me, Mr. Wilson?" Well, now you know,
for a rising promoter, that sounded pretty good - going
to have lunch with the best friends of John D. Things were
looking up. My ulcer attack disappeared. So I had lunch
with the old gentleman and we went over this thing again
and again and, boy, heís so warm and kindly and friendly.
Right at the close of the lunch he said, "Well now
Mr. W. or Bill, if I can call you that, wouldnít you like
to have a luncheon meeting with some of my friends? Thereís
Frank Amos, heís in the advertising business but he was
on a committee that recommended that Mr. Rockefeller drop
the prohibition business. And thereís LeRoy Chipman, he
looks after Mr. Rockefeller's real estate. And thereís Mr.
Scotty, Chairman of the Board of the Riverside Church and
a number of other people like that. I believe theyíd like
to hear this story."
So a meeting was arranged and it fell upon a winterís night
in 1937. And the meeting was held at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
We called in, posthaste, a couple of drunks from Akron -
Smithy included, of course - heading the procession. I came
in with the New York contingent of four or five. And to
our astonishment we were ushered into Mr., Rockefellerís
personal boardroom right next to his office. I thought to
myself "Well, now this is really getting hot."
And indeed I felt very much warmed when I was told by Mr.
Richardson that I was sitting in a chair just vacated by
Mr. Rockefeller. I said "Well, now, we really are getting
close to the bankroll."
Doc Silkworth was there that night too, and he testified
what he had seen happen to these new friends of ours, and
each drunk, thinking of nothing better to say, told their
stories of drinking and recovering and these folk listened.
They seemed very definitely impressed. I could see that
the moment for the big touch was coming. So, I gingerly
brought up the subject of the drunk tanks, the subsidized
missionaries, and the big question of a book or literature.
Well, God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.
It didnít look like a wonder to me when Mr. Scott, head
of a large engineering firm and Chairman of the Riverside
Church, looked at us and said "Gentlemen, up to this
point, this has been the work of goodwill only. No plan,
no property, no paid people, just one carrying the good
news to the next. Isnít that true? And may it not be that
that is where the great power of this society lies? Now,
if we subsidize it, might it not alter itsí whole character?
We want to do all we can, weíre gathered for that, but would
it be wise?" Well then, the salesmen all gave Mr. Scott
the rush and we said, "Why, Mr. Scott, thereíre only
40 of us. Itís taken 3 years. Why millions, Mr. Scott, will
rot before this thing ever gets to Ďem unless we have money
and lots of it."
And we made our case at last with these gentlemen for the
missionaries, the drunk tanks and the book. So one of them
volunteered to investigate us very carefully, and since
poor old Dr. Bob was harder up than I was, and since the
first group and the reciprocal community was in Akron, we
directed their attention out there. Frank Amos, still a
trustee in the Foundation, at his own expense, got on a
train, went out to Akron and made all sorts of preliminary
inquiries around town about Dr. Bob. All the reports were
good except that he was a drunk that recently got sober.
He visited the little meeting out there. He went to Dr.
Bob's house and he came back with what he thought was a
very modest proposal.
recommended to these friends of ours that we should have
at least a token amount of money at first, say $50,000,
something like that. That would clear up the mortgage on
Dr. Bobís place. It would get us a little rehabilitation
place. We could put Dr. Bob in charge. We could subsidize
a few of these people briefly, until we got some more money.
We could start the chain of hospitals. Weíd have a few missionaries.
We could get busy on the book, all for a mere $50,000 bucks.
considering the kind of money we were backed up against,
that did sound a little small, but, you know, one thing
leads to another and it sounded real good.
We were real glad. Mr. Willard Richardson, our original
contact, then took that report into John D. Jr. as everybody
recalls. And Iíve since heard what went on in there. Mr.
Rockefeller read the report, called Willard Richardson and
thanked him and said: "Somehow I am strangely stirred
by all this. This interests me immensely." And then
looking at his friend Willard, he said, "But isnít
money going to spoil this thing? Iím terribly afraid that
it would. And yet I am so strangely stirred by it."
Then came another turning point in our destiny. When that
man whose business is giving away money said to Willard
Richardson, "No," he said, I wonít be the one
to spoil this thing with money. You say these two men who
are heading it are a little Ďstressedí, Iíll put $5,000
dollars in the Riverside Church treasury. Those folks can
form themselves into a committee and draw on it as they
like. I want to hear what goes on. But, please donít ask
me for any more money."
Well, with 50 thousand that then was shrunk to five, we
paid the mortgage on Smithyís house for about three grand.
That left two and Dr. Bob and I commenced chewing on that
too. Well, that was a long way from a string of drunk tanks
and books. What in thunder would we do? Well, we had more
meetings with our newfound friends, Amos, Richardson, Scott,
Chipman and those fellows who stuck with us to this day,
some of them now gone.
And, in spite of Mr. Rockefellerís advice, we again convinced
these folks that this thing needed a lot of money. What
could we do without it? So, one of them proposed, "Well,
why donít we form a foundation, something like the Rockefeller
I said, "I hope it will be like that with respect to
And then one of them got a free lawyer from a firm who was
interested in the thing. And we all asked him to draw up
an agreement of trust, a charter for something to be called
the Alcoholic Foundation. Why we picked that one, I donít
know. I donít know whether the Foundation was alcoholic,
it was the Alcoholic Foundation, not the Alcoholics Foundation.
And the lawyer was very much confused because in the meeting
which formed the Foundation, we made it very plain that
we did not wish to be in the majority. We felt that there
should be non-alcoholics on the board and they ought to
be in a majority of one.
"Well, indeed," said the lawyer, "What is
the difference between an alcoholic and a non-alcoholic?"
And one of our smart drunks said, "Thatís a cinch,
a non-alcoholic is a guy who can drink and an alcoholic
is a guy who canít drink."
"Well," said the lawyer, "how do we state
that legally?" We didnít know. So at length, we have
a foundation and a board which I think then was about seven,
consisting of four of these new friends, including my brother-in-law,
Mr. Richardson, Chipman, Amos and some of us drunks. I think
Smithy went on the board but I kind of coyly stayed off
it thinking it would be more convenient later on.
So we had this wonderful new foundation. These friends,
unlike Mr. Rockefeller, were sold on the idea that we needed
a lot of dough, and so our salesmen around New York started
to solicit some money, again, from the very rich. We had
a list of them and we had credentials from friends of Mr.
John D. Rockefeller. "How could you miss, I ask you,
salesmen?" The Foundation had been formed in the spring
of 1938 and all summer we solicited the rich.
Well, they were either in Florida or they preferred the
Red Cross, or some of them thought that drunks were disgusting
and we didnít get one damn cent in the whole summer of 1938,
Well, meantime, we began to hold trustee meetings and they
were commiseration sessions on getting no dough. What with
the mortgage and with me and Smithy eating away at it, the
five grand had gone up the flu, and we were all stone broke
Smithy couldnít get his practice back either because he
was a surgeon and nobody likes to be carved up by an alcoholic
surgeon - even if he was three years sober.
So things were tough all around, no fooling.
Well, what would we do?
One day, probably in August 1938, I produced at a Foundation
meeting, a couple of chapters of a proposed book along with
some recommendations of a couple of doctors down at John
Hopkins to try to put the bite on the rich. And we still
had these two book chapters kicking around. Frank Amos said,
"Well now, I know the religious editor down there at
Harpers, an old friend of mine, Gene Exman." He said,
"Why donít you take these two book chapters, your story
and the introduction to the book, down there and show them
to Gene and see what he thinks about them."
So I took the chapters down. To my great surprise, Gene
who was to become a great friend of ours, looked at the
chapters and said, "Why Mr. W. (Bill), could you write
a whole book like this?"
"Well, I said, "Sure, sure." There was more
talk about it. I guess he went in and showed it to Mr. Canfield,
the big boss, and another meeting was had. The upshot was
that Harpers intimated that they would pay me as the budding
author, 15 hundred in advance royalties, bringing enough
money in to enable me to finish the book. I felt awful good
about that. It made me feel like I was an author or something.
I felt real good about it but after awhile, not so good.
Because I began to reason, and so did the other boys, if
this guy Bill W. eats up the 15 hundred bucks while heís
doing this book, after the book gets out, it will take a
long time to catch up. And if this thing gets him publicity,
what are we going to do with the inquiries? And, after all,
whatís a lousy 10% royalty anyway?
The $15 hundred still looked pretty big to me. Then we thought
too, now hereís a fine publisher like Harpers, but if this
book when done, should prove to be the main textbook for
A.A., why would we want our main means of propagation in
the hands of somebody else? Shouldnít we control this thing?
At this point, the book project really began. I had a guy
helping me on this thing who had red hair and ten times
my energy and he was some promoter [Hank P.].
He said, "Bill, this is something, come on with me."
We walk into a stationary store, we buy a pad of blank stock
certificates and we write across the top of them ĎWorks
Publishing Companyí- Par Value 25 Dollars.
So we take the pad of these stock certificates, (of course
we didnít bother to incorporate it, that didnít happen for
several more years) we took this pad of stock certificates
to the first A.A. meeting where you shouldnít mix money
We said to the drunks "look, this thing is gonna be
a cinch. Hank P. will take a third of this thing for services
rendered. I, the author will take a third for services rendered,
and you can have a third of these stock certificates par
25 if youíll just start paying up on your stock. If you
only want one share, itís only five dollars a month, 5 months,
And the drunks all gave us this stony look that said, "What
the hell, you mean to say youíre only asking us to buy stock
in a book that you ainít written yet?"
sure," we said "If Harpers will put money in this
thing why shouldnít you? Harpers said itís gonna be a good
But the drunks still gave us this stony stare. We had to
think up some more arguments. "Weíve been looking at
pricing costs of the books, boys. We get a book here, ya
know, 400 or 450 pages, it ought to sell for about $3.50."
Now back in those days we found on inquiry from the printers
that that $3.50 book could be printed for 35 cents making
a 1,000% profit. Of course, we didnít mention the other
expenses, just the printing costs. "So boys, just think
on it, when these books move out by the carload we will
be printing them for 35 cents and weíll be selling them
direct mail for $3.50. How can you lose?"
The drunks still gave us this stony stare. No salt. Well,
we figured we had to have a better argument than that. Harpers
said it was a good book, you can print them for 35 cents
and sell them for $3.50, but how are we going to convince
the drunks that we could move carload lots of them? Millions
So we get the idea weíll go up to the Readers Digest, and
we got an appointment with Mr. Kenneth Paine, the managing
editor there. Gee, I'll never forget the day we got off
the train up at Pleasantville and were ushered into his
office. We excitedly told him the story of this wonderful
budding society. We dwelled upon the friendship of Mr. Rockefeller
and Harry Emerson Fosdick. You know we were traveling in
good company with Pain. The society, by the way, was about
to publish a textbook, then in the process of being written
and we were wondering, Mr. Paine, if this wouldnít be a
matter of tremendous interest to the Readerís Digest? Having
in mind of course that the Readerís Digest has a circulation
of 12 million readers and if we could only get a free ad
of this coming book in the Digest we really would move something,
"Well," Mr. Paine said, "this sounds extremely
interesting, I like this idea, why I think itíll be an absolutely
ideal piece for the Digest. How soon do you think this new
book will be out Mr. (Bill) W.?" I said, "Weíve
got a couple of chapters written, ahem, if we can get right
at it, Mr. Paine, uh, you know, uh, probably uh, this being
October, we ought to get this thing out by April or next
"Why," Mr. Paine said, "Iím sure the Digest
would like a thing like this. Mr. (Bill) W., Iíll take it
up with the editorial board, and when the time is right
and you get already to shoot, come up and weíll put a special
feature writer on this thing and weíll tell all about your
And then my promoter friend said, "But Mr. Paine, will
you mention the new book in the piece?"
"Yes," said Mr. Paine, "we will mention the
Well, that was all we needed, we went back to the drunks
and said, "now look, boys, there are positively millions
in this Ė how can you miss? Harpers says its going to be
a good book. We buy them for 35 cents from the printer,
we sell them for $3.50 and the Readerís Digest is going
to give us a free ad in itsí piece and boys, those books
will move out by the carload. How can you miss? And after
all, we only need 4 or 5 thousand bucks."
So we began to sell the shares of Works Publishing, not
yet incorporated, par value $25 and at $5 per month to the
poor people. Some people bought as little as one and one
guy bought 10 shares. We sold a few shares to non-alcoholics
and my promoter friend who was to get one-third interest
was a very important man in this transaction because he
went out and kept collecting the money from the drunks so
that little Ruthie Hock and I could keep working on the
book and Lois could have some groceries (even though she
was still working in that department store).
So, the preparation started and some more chapters were
done and we went to A.A. meetings in New York with these
chapters in the rough. It wasnít like chicken-in-the-rough;
the boys didnít eat those chapters up at all. I suddenly
discovered that I was in this terrific whirlpool of arguments.
I was just the umpire - I finally had to stipulate:
"Well boys, over here you got the Holly Rollers who
say we need all the good old-fashioned stuff in the book,
and over here you tell me weíve got to have a psychological
book, and that never cured anybody, and they didnít do very
much with us in the missions, so I guess you will have to
leave me just to be the umpire. Iíll scribble out some roughs
here and show them to you and letís get the comments in."
So we fought, bled and died our way through one chapter
after another. We sent them out to Akron and they were peddled
around and there were terrific hassles about what should
go in this book and what should not.
Meanwhile, we set drunks up to write their stories or we
had newspaper people to write the stories for them to go
in the back of the book. We had an idea that weíd have a
text and all and then weíd have stories all about the drunks
who were staying sober.
Then came that night when we were up around Chapter 5. As
you know Iíd gone on about myself, which was natural after
all. And then the little introductory chapter and we dealt
with the agnostic and we described alcoholism, but, boy,
we finally got to the point where we really had to say what
the book was all about and how this deal works.
I told you this was a six-step program then. On this particular
evening, I was lying in bed on Clinton Street wondering
what the deuce this next chapter would be about. The idea
came to me, well, we need a definite statement of concrete
principles that these drunks canít wiggle out of. Canít
be any wiggling out of this deal at all. And this six-step
program had two big gaps in-between theyíll wiggle out of.
Moreover if this book goes out to distant readers, they
have to have got to have an absolutely explicit program
by which to go.
This was while I was thinking these thoughts, while my imaginary
ulcer was paining me and while I was mad as hell at these
drunks because the money was coming in too slow. Some had
the stock and werenít paying up. A couple of guys came in
and they gave me a big argument and we yelled and shouted
and I finally went down and laid on the bed with my ulcer
and I said, "poor me."
There was a pad of paper by the bed and I reached for that
and said "youíve got to break this program up into
small pieces so they canít wiggle out. So I started writing,
trying to bust it up into little pieces. And when I got
the pieces set down on that piece of yellow paper, I put
numbers on them and was rather agreeably surprised when
it came out to twelve.
I said, "Thatís a good significant figure in Christianity
and mystic lore. "Then I noticed that instead of leaving
the God idea to the last, Iíd got it up front but I didnít
pay much attention to that, it looked pretty good.
Well, the next meeting comes along; Iíd gone on beyond the
steps trying to amplify them in the rest of that chapter
to the meeting and boy, pandemonium broke loose.
"What do you mean by changing the program.. .what about
this, what about that, this thing is overloaded with God.
We donít like this, youíve got these guys on their kneesÖ.stand
A lot of these drunks are scared to death of being GodlyÖ.letís
take God out of it entirely."
Such were the arguments that we had. Out of that terrific
hassle came the Twelve Steps. That argument caused the introduction
of the phrase which has been a lifesaver to thousands....it
was certainly none of my doing. I was on the pious side
then, you see, still suffering from this big hot flash of
The idea of "God as you understand Him" came out
of that perfectly ferocious argument and we put that in.
little by little things ground on, little by little the
drunks put in money and we kept an office open in Newark,
which was the office of a defunct business where I tried
to establish my friend.
The money ran low at times and Ruthie Hock worked for no
pay. We gave her plenty of stock in the Works Publishing
of course. All you had to do is tear it off the pay, par
25 have a weekís salary, dear.
So, we got around to about January 1939. Somebody said "hadnít
we better test this thing out; hadnít we better make a pre-publication
copy, a multilith or mimeographed copy of this text and
a few of the personal stories that had come in - try it
out on the preacher, on the doctor, the Catholic Committee
on Publications, psychiatrists, policemen, fishwives, housewives,
drunks, everybody. Just to see if weíve got anything that
goes against the grain anyplace and also to find out if
we canít get some better ideas here?"
at considerable expense, we got this pre-publication copy
made; we peddled it around and comments came back, some
of them very helpful. It went, among other places, to the
Catholic Committee on Publications in New York and at that
time we had only one Catholic member to take it there and
he had just gotten out of the asylum and hadnít had anything
to do with preparing the book.
The book passed inspection and the stories came in. Somehow
we got them edited, somehow we got the galleys together.
We got up to the printing time.
Meanwhile, the drunks had been kind of slow on those subscription
payments and a little further on I was able to go up to
Charlie Towns where old Doc Silkworth held forth. Charlie
believed in us so we put the slug on to Charlie for $2,500
Charlie didnít want any stocks, he wanted a promissory note
on the book not yet written. So, we got the $2,500 from
Charlie routed around through the Alcoholic Foundation so
that it could be tax exempt. Also, we had blown $6,000 in
these 9 months in supporting the 3 of us in an office and
the till was getting low.
We still had to get this book printed. So, we go up to Cornwall
Press, which is the largest printer in the world, where
weíd made previous inquiries and we asked about printing
and they said theyíd be glad to do it and how many books
would we like? We said that was hard to estimate. Of course
our membership is very small at the present time and we
wouldnít sell many to the membership but after all, the
Readers Digest is going to print a plug about it to itsí
2 million readers. This book should go out in carloads when
The printer was none other than dear old Mr. Blackwell,
one of our Christian friends and Mr. Blackwell said "How
much of a down payment are you going to make? How many books
would you like printed?"
"Well," we said "weíll be conservative, letís
print 5,000 just to start with."
Mr. Blackwell asked us what we were going to use for money.
We said that we wouldnít need much; just a few hundred dollars
on account would be all right. I told you, after all, weíre
traveling in very good company, friends of Mr. Rockefeller
and all that.
So, Blackwell started printing the 5,000 books; the plates
were made and the galleys were read. Gee, all of a sudden
we thought of the Readerís Digest, so we go up to there,
walk in on Mr. Kenneth Paine and say "Weíre all ready
And Mr. Paine replies "Shoot what - Oh yes, I remember
you two, Mr. (Hank) P. and Mr. (Bill) W. You gentlemen were
here last fall, I told you the Readerís Digest would be
interested in this new work and in your book. Well, right
after you were here, I consulted our editorial board and
to my great surprise they didnít like the idea at all and
I forgot to tell you!"
Oh boy, we had the drunks with $5,000 bucks in it, Charlie
Towns hooked for $2,500 bucks and $2,500 on the cuff with
the printer. There was $500 left in the bank...what in the
duce would we do?
Morgan R., the good-looking Irishman who had taken the book
over to the Catholic Committee on Publication, had been
in an earlier time a good ad man.
He said that he knew Gabriel Heatter. "Gabriel is putting
on these 3 minute heart to heart programs on the radio.
Iíll get an interview with him and maybe heíll interview
me on the radio about all this," said Morgan R.
So, our spirits rose once again. Then all of a sudden we
had a big chill, suppose this Irishman got drunk before
Heatter interviewed him? So, we went to see Heatter and
lo and behold, Heatter said he would interview him and then
we got still more scared. So, we rented a room in the downtown
Athletic Club and we put Morgan R. in there with a day and
night guard for ten days.
Meanwhile, our spirits rose again. We could see those books
just going out in carloads. Then my promoter friend said
"Look, there should be a follow-up on a big thing like
this here interview. Itíll be heard all over the countryÖnational
network. I think folks that are the market for this book
are the doctors...the physicians. I suggest that we pitch
the last $500 that we have in the treasury on a postal card
shower, which will go to every physician east of the Rocky
Mountains. On this postal card weíll say "Hear all
about Alcoholics Anonymous on Gabriel Heatterís Program
- spend $3.50 for the book Alcoholics Anonymous, sure-cure
So, we spent the last $500 on the postal card shower and
mailed them out.
They managed to keep Morgan R. sober although he since hasnít
made it. All the drunks had their ears glued to the radio.
The group market in Alcoholics Anonymous was already saturated
because you see, we had 49 stockholders and theyíd all gotten
a book free, then we had 28 guys with stories and they all
got a free book. So we had run out of the A.A. books. But
we could see the book moving out in carloads to these doctors
and their patients.
Sure enough, Morgan R. is interviewed. Heatter pulled out
the old tremolo stop and we could see the book orders coming
back in carloads.
Well, we just couldnít wait to go down to old Post Office
Box 658, Church Street Annex, the address printed in the
back of the old books. We hung at it for about three days
and then my friends Hank and Ruthie Hock and I went over
and we looked in Box 658. It wasnít a locked box; you just
looked through the glass. We could see that there were a
few of these postal cards. I had a terrible sinking sensation.
But my friend the promoter said "Bill, they canít put
all those cards in the box, theyíve got bags full of it
We go to the clerk and he brings out 12 lousy postal cards,
10 of them were completely illegible, written by doctors,
druggists, and monkeys? We had exactly two orders for the
book Alcoholics Anonymous and we were absolutely and utterly
The Sheriff then moved in on the office, poor Mr. Blackwell
wondered what to do for money and felt like taking the book
over at that very opportune moment, the house which Lois
and I lived in was foreclosed and we and our furniture were
set out on the street. Such was the state of the book Alcoholics
Anonymous and the state of grace Bill & Lois W. were
in the summer of 1939.
Moreover, a great cry went up from the drunks, "What
about our $4,500?" Even Charlie (Towns) who was pretty
well off was a little uneasy about the note for $2,500.
What would we do? What could we do? We put our goods in
storage on the cuff; we couldnít even pay the drayman. An
A. A. lent us his summer camp, another A.A. lent us his
car, the folks around New York began to pass the hat for
groceries for Bill & Lois W. and supplied us with $50
per month. So, we had a lot of discontented stockholders,
$50 bucks a month, a summer camp and an automobile with
which to revive the failing fortunes of the book Alcoholics
We began to shop around from one magazine to another asking
if they would give us some publicity, nobody bit and it
looked like the whole dump was going to be foreclosed; book,
office, Wilsonís, everything.
One of the boys in New York happened to be a little bit
prosperous at the time and he had a fashionable clothing
business on Fifth Avenue which we learned was mostly on
mortgage, having drunk nearly all of it up. His name was
Bert T. I went up to Bert one day and I said "Bert,
there is a promise of an article in Liberty Magazine, I
just got it today but it wonít come out until next September.
Itís going to be called ĎAlcoholics and Godí and will be
printed by Fulton Oursler the editor of Liberty Magazine.
Bert, when that piece is printed, these books will go out
in carload lots. We need $1,000 bucks to get us through
Bert asked, "Well, are you sure that the article is
going to be printed?"
"Oh yes," I said, "thatís final."
He said, "O.K., I havenít got the dough but thereís
this man down in Baltimore, Mr. Cochran, heís a customer
of mine...he buys his pants in here. Let me call him up."
gets on long-distance with Mr. Cochran in Baltimore, a very
wealthy man, and says to him "Mr. Cochran, from time
to time I mentioned this alcoholic fellowship to which I
belong. Our fellowship has just come out with a magnificent
new textbook.. .a sure cure for alcoholism... .Mr. Cochran,
this is something we think every public library in America
should have, and Mr. Cochran, the retail price of the book
is $2.50. Mr. Cochran, if youíll just buy a couple of thousand
of those books and put them in the large libraries, of course
we would sell them for that purpose at a considerable discount."
Mr. Cochran, some publicity will come out next fall about
this new book Alcoholics Anonymous, but in the meantime,
these books are moving slowly and we need, say, $1,000 to
tide us over. Would you loan the Works Publishing Company
Mr. Cochran asked what the balance sheet of the Works Publishing
Company looked like and after he learned what it looked
like he said "no thanks."
So Bert then said, "Now Mr. Cochran, you know me. Would
you loan the money to me on the credit of my business?"
"Why certainly," Mr. Cochran said, "send
me down your note." So Bert hocked the business that
a year or two later was to go broke anyway and saved the
book Alcoholics Anonymous. The thousand dollars lasted until
the Liberty article came out.
Eight hundred inquiries came in as a result of that, we
moved a few books and we barely squeaked through the year
1939. In all this period we heard nothing from John D. Rockefeller
when all of a sudden, in about February, 1940, Mr. Richardson
came to a trustees meeting of the Foundation and announced
that he had great news.
We were told that Mr. Rockefeller, whom we had not heard
from since 1937, had been watching us all this time with
immense interest. Moreover, Mr. Rockefeller wanted to give
this fellowship a dinner to which he would invite his friends
to see the beginnings of this new and promising start.
Mr. Richardson produced the invitation list. Listed were
the President of Chase Bank, Wendell Wilkie, and all kinds
of very prominent people, many of them extremely rich. I
mean, after a quick look at the list I figured it would
add up to a couple of billion dollars. So, we felt maybe
at least, you know, there would be some money in sight.
So, the dinner came, and we got Harry Emerson Fosdick who
had reviewed the A.A. book and he gave us a wonderful plug.
Dr. Kennedy came and spoke on the medical attitudes. Heíd
seen a patient of his, a very hopeless gal, Marty M., recover.
I got up, talked about life among the "anonymie,"
and the bankers assembled 75 strong and in great wealth,
sat at the tables with the alcoholics.
The bankers had come probably for some sort of command performance
and they were a little suspicious that perhaps this was
another prohibition deal, but they warmed up under the influence
of the alcoholics.
Mr. (Morgan) R., the hero of the Heatter episode and still
sober, was asked at his table by a distinguished banker,
"Why, Mr. (Morgan) R., we presumed you were in the
Morgan R. says, "not at all sir, I just got out of
Great Stone Asylum."
Well, that intrigued the bankers and they were all warming
up. Unfortunately, Mr. Rockefeller couldnít get to the dinner.
He was quite sick that night so he sent his son, a wonderful
gent, Nelson Rockefeller, in his place instead.
After the show was over and everyone was in fine form, we
were all ready again for the big touch. Nelson Rockefeller
got up and speaking for his father said, "My father
sends word that he is so sorry that he cannot be here tonight,
but is so glad that so many of his friends can see the beginnings
of this great and wonderful thing. Something that affected
his life more than almost anything that had crossed his
A stupendous plug that was! Then Nelson said, "Gentlemen,
this is a work that proceeds on good will. It requires no
money." Whereupon, the 2 billion dollars got up and
walked out. That was a terrific letdown, but we werenít
let down for too long.
Again, the hand of Providence had intervened. Right after
dinner, Mr. Rockefeller asked that the talks and pamphlets
He approached the rather defunct Works Publishing Company
and said he would like to buy 400 books to send to all of
the bankers who had come to the dinner and to those who
Seeing that this was for a good purpose, we let him have
the books cheap. He bought them cheaper than anybody has
since. We sold 400 books to John D. Rockefeller Jr. for
one buck apiece to send to his banker friends. He sent out
the books and pamphlets and with it, he wrote a personal
letter and signed every dog gone one of them.
In this letter he stated how glad he was that his friends
had been able to see the great beginning of what he thought
would be a wonderful thing, how deeply it had affected him
and then he added (unfortunately) "gentlemen, this
is a work of goodwill. It needs little, if any, money. I
am giving these good people $1,000." So, the bankers
all received Mr. Rockefellerís letter and counted it up
on the cuff. Well, if John D. is giving $1,000, me with
only a few million should send these boys about $10! One
who had an alcoholic relative in tow sent us $300. So, with
Mr. Rockefellerís $1,000 plus the solicitation of all the
rest of these bankers, we got together the princely sum
of $3,000 which was the first outside contribution of the
$3,000 was divided equally between Smithy and me so that
we could keep going somehow. We solicited that dinner list
for 5 years and got about $3,000 a year for 5 years.
At the end of that time, we were able to say to Mr. Rockefeller,
"We donít need any more money. The book income is helping
to support our office, the groups are contributing to fill
in and the royalties are taking care of Dr. Bob and Bill
Now you see Mr. Rockefellerís decision not to give us money
was a blessing. He gave of himself. He gave of himself when
he was under public ridicule for his views about alcohol.
He said to the whole world "this is good." The
story went out on the wires all over the world. People ran
into the bookstores to get the new book and boy, we really
began to get some book orders. An awful lot of inquiries
came into the little office at Vessy Street. The book money
began to pay Ruth.
We hired one more to help. There was Ruthie, another gal
and me. And then came Jack Alexander with his terrific article
in the Saturday Evening Post. Then an immense lot of inquiries....
6,000 or 7,000 of them. Alcoholics Anonymous had become
a national institution.
Such is the story of the preparation of the book Alcoholics
Anonymous and of its subsequent effect, you all have some
notion. The proceeds of that book have repeatedly saved
the office in New York. But, it isnít the money that has
come out of it that matters, it is the message that it carried.
That transcended the mountains and the sea and is even at
this moment, is lighting candles in dark caverns and on