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The Big Book is Published

This article is written by nationally recognized historian and oft-quoted Alcoholics Anonymous archivist Mitchell K.

The official publication date of the Big Book according to the United States Copyright Office was April 10, 1939. There were 4,730 books printed with red cloth binding, wide columns, thick paper, a red, yellow, black and white dust jacket. There was the program of recovery outlined and the personal testimonies of those who had recovered.

Several dozen books which had been pre-paid were shipped out. AA members got their copies and some were given away. The boxes of books still being held at the Cornwall Press probably were piled high to the ceiling. Letters were sent out, a small ad was placed and Bill, Ruth and Hank waited for the orders to pile in.

Every day the went to the Post Office box expecting to be flooded with requests for the book. Other than a slight trickle, the expected orders didn't materialize. Once again, they were dejected. They needed a boost.

In September 1939, Liberty Magazine ran an article entitled "Alcoholics and God" by Morris Markey. It briefly told about Alcoholics Anonymous. This was the first national publicity AA received.

Missing Pieces of History

There was another article reportedly printed in a religious magazine called FAITH. The article was written by Dr. Bob who had supposedly used his full name as the author of that article.

This writer has attempted to track down a copy of the article for several years. The AA Archives in New York City claims they do not have a copy and even the Library of Congress no longer have copies of that magazine. It appears that the Library of Congress "dumped" their microfiche files for the only two magazines called FAITH from that era in the 1970's.

Another heartbreaking "dumping" occurred several years ago. A long-term AA member living locally in this writer's vicinity stated that he once had the original printing plates for the Big Book from the Cornwall Press. The Cornwall Press once was located near this writer's home. This long-term member stated that during a relapse, out of anger, he threw out the plates and they were lost forever.

The Rockefeller Dinner

Bill W. once again went to Willard Richardson for financial help. Willard helped put together the original Rockefeller meeting. Bill explained that the meetings were growing but there was no income coming in from book sales. He had over 4,000 copies in storage which wouldn't be released until paid for.

Willard convinced John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to help out. Rockefeller arranged for a dinner for all his friends to hear about this wonderful new movement. One Hundred and Eighty Seven engraved invitations were sent out to some of the richest and most powerful men in the United States.

Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
requests the pleasure of your company
at dinner
on Thursday, the eighth of February
at seven o'clock
Park Avenue and 69th Street
Mr. William G. Wilson, author of "Alcoholics Anonymous"
and Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick
will speak on an effective control of alcoholism

Of the 187 Invitations that were sent, 127 were sent back with regrets. Among those who responded in the affirmative were included several of the invited AA members. Among the 60 people who actually attended this dinner there was Bill, Dr. Bob, Clarence S., Fitz M., Bert T., and Bill R. on the AA side. Others included members of Rockefeller's staff, Frank Amos, Gordon Auchincloss, Dr. Russell E. Blaisdell, Horace Crystal, A. Leroy Chipman, Leonard V. Harrison, Dr. Foster Kennedy, Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, Dr. Leonard V. Strong, Jr. and Wendell L. Wilkie. Many of these men went on to be great friends of AA.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. could not attend the dinner due to illness so his son, Nelson Rockefeller took over. There were several speakers including Bill W. who spoke about the movement. The final speaker was the Reverend Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick who ended his talk with the following remarks:

"Last of all, I admire the quietness, the anonymity which this movement is carried on. Very small overhead financially, no big organization, nobody making anything out of it, no high salaried staff, people for the love of it sharing with others the experience that has meant life to them - that is good work. No one is a prophet, but I suspect that there is a long road ahead of this movement."

One long-term member who was at this dinner once remarked to this writer that looking back on those remarks AA is now a far cry from back then. He stated that there now was a very large overhead with high rentals and expensive, well appointed offices, a large multi-million dollar organization, millions in royalty payments and a high salaried staff. The long-term member longed for the simpler days when the primary purpose was to carry the message and remain as a spiritual entity rather than a publishing empire and big business.

Mr. Rockefeller ordered copies of the Big Book for all those who were invited and gave an additional $1,000 to the movement. Rockefeller still held on to the belief that a lot of money would spoil the movement. He sent out letters extolling the virtues of AA to those he sent books to and through that "hint," an additional $2,000 was donated.

Bill once again felt that AA was on its way. He felt that more books would be sold and that the movement would take off like a rocket. Unfortunately, there wasn't a need for a second printing of the Big Book until March 1941, just over a year after the Rockefeller Dinner.

The reason for this need for a second printing of almost 5,000 more copies was due to a momentous event in AA history.

More will be revealed...

Mitchell K.

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