On June 10, 1935, Bill Wilson and his friend Dr. Robert Smith set out to find the best way to reform alcoholics, and Alcoholics Anonymous was born.
Wilson explained how he was able to become sober, which had a profound impression on Smith. They developed an approach to remaining sober through the personal support of other alcoholics. Seiberling insisted on emphasizing religion, even if it made certain alcoholics less likely to join.
“Well, we’re not out to please the alcoholics,” she reasoned. “They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God. … God is your only source of Power.”
On June 10, outside an Akron hospital, Smith drank a beer to steady his hands for surgery; it would be the last drink he ever had.
Both men began devoting their free time to reforming other alcoholics at Akron’s City Hospital, and were able to help one man achieve sobriety. “Though the name Alcoholics Anonymous had not yet been coined, these three men actually made up the nucleus of the first A.A. group,” according to the Alcoholics Anonymous Web site.
In 1935, a second group of alcoholics formed in New York followed by a third group in Cleveland in 1939. Through the group, Wilson “emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body,” according to A.A.
In 1939, the group published its textbook, “Alcoholics Anonymous.” Written by Wilson, the book explained the group’s philosophy, including the now well-known 12 steps of recovery.
Alcoholics Anonymous continued to grow, spreading across the United States and Canada. According to the A.A. Web site, by 1950, there were 100,000 recovered alcoholics worldwide. Also in 1950, A.A. held its first international convention in Cleveland
Getting sober was the first stop in turning his life around. Helping fellow alcoholic Smith was the second step, and paved the way for the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. According to Time magazine, “As Alcoholics Anonymous grew, Wilson became its principal symbol.” Throughout his life with the group, “he clung to the principles and the power of anonymity,” and declined Time’s offer to put him on the magazine’s cover—“even with his back turned.”
Wilson, a longtime smoker, died in 1971 of pneumonia and emphysema in Miami, where he had traveled for treatment