To Second Edition
*Fourteenth Printing, 1973
the original Foreward to this book was written in 1939,
a wholesale miracle has taken place. Our earliest printing
voiced the hope "that every alcoholic who journeys will
find the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous at his destination.
Already," continues the early text, "twos and threes and
fives of us have sprung up in other communities."
Sixteen years have
elapsed between our first printing of this book and the
presentation in 1955 of our second adition. In that brief
space, Alcoholics Anonymous has mushroomed into nearly
6,000 groups whose membership is far above 150,000 recovered
alcoholics. Groups are to be found in each of the United
States and all of the provinces of Canada. A.A. has flourishing
communities in the British Isles, the Scandinavian countries,
South Africa, South America, Mexico, Alaska, Australia
and Hawaii. All told, promising beginnings have been made
in some 50 foreign countries and U.S. possessions. Some
are just now taking shap in Asia. Many of our friends
encourage us by saying that this is but a beginning, only
the augury of a much larger future ahead.
spark that was to flare into the first A.A. group was
struck at Akron, Ohio, in June 1935, during a talk between
a New York stockbroker and an Akron physician. Six months
earlier, the broker had been relieved of his drink obsession
by a sudden spiritual
following a meeting with an alcoholic friend who had been
in contact with the Oxford Groups of that day. He had
also been greatly helped by the late Dr. William D. Silkworth,
a New York specialist in alcoholism who is now accounted
no less than a medical saint by A.A. members, and whose
story of the early days of our Society appears in the
next pages. From this doctor, the Broker had learned the
grave nature of alcoholism. Though he could not accept
all the tenets of the Oxford Groups, he was convinced
of the need for moral inventory, confession of personality
defects, restitution to those harmed, helpfulness to others,
and the necessity of belief in and dependence upon God.
to his journey to Akron, the broker had worked hard with
many alcoholics on the theory that only an alcoholic could
help an alcoholic, but he had succeeded only in keeping
sober himself. The broker had gone to Akron on a business
venture which had collapsed, leaving him greatly in fear
that he might start drinking again. He suddenly realized
that in order to save himself he must carry his message
to another alcoholic. That alcoholic turned out to be
the Akron physcian.
physician had repeatedly tried spiritual means to resolve
his alcoholic dilemma but had failed. But when the broker
gave him Dr. Silkworth's description of alcoholism and
its hopelessness, the physician began to pursue the spiritual
remedy for his malady with a willingness he had never
before been able to muster. He sobered, never to drink
again up to the moment of his death in 1950. This seemed
to prove that one alcoholic could affect another as no
It also indicated that strenuous work, one alcoholic with
another, was vital to permanent recovery.
Hence the two men
set to work almost frantically upon alcoholics arriving
in the ward of the Akron City Hospital. Their very first
case, a desperate one, recovered immediately and became
A.A. number three. He never had another drink. This work
at Akron continued through the summer of 1935. There were
many failures, but there was an occasional heartening
success. When the broker returned to New York in the fall
of 1935, the first A.A. group had actually been formed,
though no one realized it at the time.
second small group promptly took shape at New York, to
be followed in 1937 with the start of a third at Cleveland.
Besides these, there were scattered alcoholics who had
picked up the basic ideas in Akron or New York who were
trying to form groups in other cities. By late 1937, the
number of members having substantial sobriety time behind
them was sufficient to convince the membership that a
new light had entered the dark world of the alcoholic.
was now time, the struggling groups thought, to place
their message and unique experience before the world.
This determination bore fruit in the spring of 1939 by
the publication of this volume. The membership had then
reached about 100 men and women. The fledgling society,
which had been nameless, now began to be called Alcolics
Anonymous, from the title of its own book. The flying-blind
period ended and A.A. entered a new phase of its pioneering
the appearance of the new book a great deal began to happen.
Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the
clergyman, reviewed it with approval. In the fall of 1939
Fulton Oursler, then editor of Liberty, printed a piece
in his magazine, called "Alcoholics and God." This brought
a rush of 800 frantic inquiries into the little New York
office which meanwhile had been established. Each inquiry
was painstakingly answered; pamphlets and books were sent
out. Businessmen, traveling out of existing groups, were
referred to these prospective newcomers. New groups started
up and it was found, to the astonishment of everyone,
that A.A.'s message could be transmitted in the mail as
well as by word of mouth. By the end of 1939 it was estimated
that 800 alcoholics were on their way to recovery.
the spring of 1940, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave a dinner
for many of his friends to which he invited A.A. members
to tell their stories. News of this got on the world wires;
inquiries poured in again and many people went to the
bookstores to get the book "Alcoholics Anonymous." By
March 1941 the membership had shot up to 2,000. Then Jack
Alexander wrote a feature article in the Saturday Evening
Post and placed such a compelling picture of A.A.
before the general public that alcoholics in need of help
really deluged us. By the close of 1941, A.A. numbered
8,000 members. The mushrooming process was in full swing.
A.A. had become a national institution.
Society then entered a fearsome and exciting adolescent
period. The test that it faced was this: Could these large
numbers of erstwhile erratic alcoholics successfully meet
and work together? Would there be quarrels over membership,
leadership and money? Would there be strivings for power
Would there be schisms which would split A.A. apart? Soon
A.A. was beset by these very problems on every side and
in every group. But out of this frightening and at first
disrupting experience the conviction grew that A.A.'s
had to hang together or die separately. We had to unify
our Fellowship or pass off the scene.
we discovered the principles by which the individual alcoholic
could live, so we had to evolve principles by which the
A.A. groups and A.A. as a whole could survive and function
effectively. It was thought that no alcoholic man or woman
could be excluded from our Society; that our leaders might
serve but never govern; that each group was to be autonomous
and there was to be no professional class of therepy.
There were to be no fees or dues; our expenses were to
be met by our own voluntary contributions. There was to
be the least possible organization, even in our service
centers. Our public relations were to be based upon attraction
rather than promotion. It was decided that all members
ought to be anonymous at the level of press, radio, TV
and films. And in no circumstances should we give endorsements,
make alliances or enter public controversies.
was the substance of A.A.'s Twelve Traditions, which are
stated in full on page 564 of this book. Though none of
these principles had the force of rules or laws, they
had become so widely accepted by 1950 that they were confirmed
by our first International Conference held at Cleveland.
Today the remarkable unity of A.A. is one of the greatest
assets that our Society has.
the internal difficulties of our adolescent
were being ironed out, public acceptance of A.A. grew
by leaps and bounds. For this there were two principal
reasons: the large numbers of recoveries and reunited
homes. These made their impressions everywhere. Of alcoholics
who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once
and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses,
and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A.
showed improvement. Other thousands came to a few A.A.
meetings and at first decided they didn't want the program.
But great numbers of these—about two out of three—began
to return as time passed.
reason for the wide acceptance of A.A. was the ministration
of friends—friends in medicine, religion, and the press,
together with innumerable others who became our able and
persistent advocates. Without such support, A.A. could
have made only the slowest progress. Some of the recommendations
of A.A.'s early medical and religious friends will be
found further on in this book.
Anonymous is not a religious organization. Neither does
A.A. take any particular medical point of view, though
we cooperate widely with the men of medicine as well as
with the men of religion.
being no respecter of persons, we are an accurate cross
section of America, and in distant lands, the same democratic
enening-up process is now going on. By personal religious
affiliation, we include Catholics, Protestants, Jews,
Hindus, and a prinkling of Moslems and Buddhists. More
than 15% of us are women.
present, our membership is pyramiding at the rate of about
twenty per cent a year. So far, upon the
problem of several million actual and potential alcoholics
in the world, we have made only a scratch. In all probability,
we shall never be able to touch more than a fair fraction
of the alcohol problem in all its ramifications. Upon
therapy for the alcoholic himself, we surely have no monopoly.
Yet it is our great hope that all those who have as yet
found no answer may begin to find one in the pages of
this book and will presently join us on the high road
to a new freedom.