April 2014: Typing, Raising Cash and "Imaginary Ulcer Attacks"
A timeline of the first year and a half of the making of the Big Book
Middle of Oct., 1937
Our co-founder Bill W. travels to Akron where the group meets and approves raising funds for paid missionaries, a chain of national hospitals and the writing of a book. The Ohio members do not, however, intend to contribute any money themselves and they send Bill back to New York City to raise the money there.
May 20, 1938
Having collected just one contribution in the past seven months, Bill begins writing "Bill's Story" and "There Is a Solution"—primarily as promotion pieces that he and Hank P. hope will open the wallets of the rich.
June 17, 1938
The first copies of these two chapters are sent out in an effort to raise money from a New York banker. Many copies of the two chapters are sent out in similar fashion over the next several months. No money is raised.
July 27, 1938
Bill spends the month of July collecting favorable testimonials about AA's success, one of which is written by Dr. William Silkworth of Towns Hospital in New York City (where Bill had his "white light" experience). It later appears as the first letter in "The Doctor's Opinion."
August 7, 1938
Bill sends Dr. Bob advice on how the Akron people should write their stories for the book. "I would say that everyone should write at whatever length they want to; the more, the better…" he writes. "The idea is that a chance word or phrase or experience may be the most telling point of the story, which would be missed entirely if people were trying to restrict themselves to a given number of words."
Sept. 28, 1938
Bill sends Dr. Bob the first drafts of "More About Alcoholism" and "We Agnostics." "Two more chapters of the book are close to completion," he writes. "I am enclosing the original dictation on two of them so you can get a rough idea. You will understand that what I am sending you is just the rough, uncorrected outline. Will let you have the polished product when ready."
Nov. 3, 1938
Three more chapters are sent to Dr. Bob: "I am turning this stuff out as fast as I can, being only once-corrected dictation," Bill writes. "You can't call it serious writing. After I get all through with these general chapters on the present basis, I will edit them as carefully as I can, bearing in mind the criticisms and suggestions from anyone who wants to make them … Everybody who has seen the personal stories from Akron thinks they are great."
Nov. 15, 1938
Hank P. has had a hard time selling stock in Works Publishing to AA members who just can't afford the price of $25 a share. So he comes up with a creative time-payment plan of $5 a month starting on this day. Many members subscribe and provide much of the money needed to fund the writing of the book.
Early Dec., 1938
Bill writes the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. He is in the midst of one of his "imaginary ulcer attacks" (which plague him in times of stress—and what could be more stressful than having to lay down "the rules" for sobriety?), but nonetheless he is able to come up with the first draft of his famous formulation in under 30 minutes.
Dec. 13, 1938
Bill tells Dr. Bob that "on the book, we are going hell bent for election. It is practically complete, and I will send you the rest of the chapters within two or three days. Next step is to make, after one editing, photolithic copies of the whole works."
Jan. 5, 1939
Tom Uzzell agrees to edit the manuscript of the Big Book. According to Bill, his most significant suggestion was to move "Bill's Story" to the front of the book (it had previously been the first story in the back).
The multilith printing of what is now called "The original manuscript" is printed and circulated for comments and criticism. All the suggestions for changes are put into one master copy of the book; some of these are finally incorporated into the text and some are not.
Early April, 1939
Bill W., Hank P., Ruth Hock & Dorothy Snyder travel to Cornwall, N.Y. to make the final edits to the Big Book. Hank has many suggestions for last minute changes, but Bill makes all the final decisions on what goes in and what does not.
April 10, 1939
4,650 copies of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, are printed. One hundred copies are delivered to Bill and Hank with several more copies going to Willard Richardson and Frank Amos (the Rockefeller associates that Bill and Hank have been working with for more than a year). More copies of the book will be released, but only after some payment has been made on the still outstanding bill with the printer.
Carrying the message since 1935
The first printing of the first edition was the only one that came in red.
There have been four different editions of the Big Book. Which is your favorite cover? Vote on I-Poll at aagrapevine.org
1st edition: 1939
2nd edition: 1955
3rd edition: 1976
4th edition: 2001
Timeline written by Bill S., Fairfield, Conn.
- Twelve Traditions
AA's guiding principles
Behind the Scenes
- Personal Stories
AA's tales of recovery
Tragedy in the Night
- Twelve Steps
AA's blueprint for sobriety
The Road from Reno
New to AA? Find sober support
Like a Duckling
Get a dose of Higher Power here
A River Runs Through It
They've experienced it all ... sober
What's My Secret?