AA History

Bill W., Dr. Bob

Jack Alexander's Article on Alcoholics Anonymous in The Saturday Evening Post - March 1, 1941

Bill W.
Devising a plan that has helped millions of people, Bill Wilson started a group called Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) by coming together with Dr. Bob Smith and developing a twelve-step strategy to ending alcoholism.  With little success at first, the group set out rules that would help govern their organization.   A similar organization called the Washingtonians had had similar goals, but did not have the governing rules that would keep the focus off of politics and on the actual members attempting to better their lives.  Bill Wilson’s group would from the start follow a doctrine published in the form of a book that he and Dr. Smith had written.  This 400-page manual contains inspiration and foresight into the steps needed to overcome alcoholism in order to be considered fully recovered.  Two of those steps are the member’s admittance of the problem and the member’s right to anonymity.  Suffering from bouts of depression, especially after losing his fortune after several successful years playing the stock market, Wilson began drinking.   His drinking got out of control and he was losing control of his life.  Upon visiting a friend who had been given a vision from God to stop drinking, Bill left and suffered an even worse bout with alcohol that sent him to the hospital.  During his time there, he had his own spiritual vision where he claims he lost his will to drink alcohol.  Then, while on a business trip to Ohio, Wilson felt the urge to drink when a business deal fell through.  It was at that moment when he felt tempted to drink in order to escape that he called a clergyman on the phone.  While this did help, Wilson kept calling numbers at random, hoping to contact another alcoholic.  He dialed surgeon Dr. Smith’s number whose last drinking day in June of 1935 is considered the official birthdate of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  After an article published by The Saturday Evening Post, A.A.’s membership grew exponentially. The group’s fame spread to other countries and used Bill Wilson’s informal, yet practical approach to solving one of the world’s worst, yet most curable diseases.  Despite outside organizations wanting to commend Wilson for his outstanding social work, he always rejected any claim to fame, holding true to his own beliefs and doctrines.

Dr. Bob

Robert Holbrook Smith (August 8, 1879 November 16, 1950) was an American physician and surgeon who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous with Bill Wilson, more commonly known as Bill W.   Robert was known as Dr. Bob.   He was born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, where he was raised, to Susan A. Holbrook and Walter Perrin Smith.   After graduation from Dartmouth College in 1902, he completed medical school at the University of Michigan.  Smith was married to Anne Ripley Smith, who played a vital role in the development of the 12 steps of AA.  Smith co-founded the recovery movement Alcoholics Anonymous with Bill Wilson, in 1935 in Akron, Ohio.  Smith was called the "Prince of Twelfth Steppers" by Wilson because he voluntarily helped more than 5,000 alcoholics.  In addition, it was in his home that the basic ideas of A.A. were developed.  Many A.A. ideas developed initially in an offshoot of the then-popular Oxford Group, which was a Christian movement.  Smith said that A.A.'s basic ideas came from their study of the Bible; the Steps, in essence meant "love and service.  "Smith is a co-founder of A.A. because A.A. is based on the idea of one alcoholic helping another to recover from alcoholism.  Although Bill Wilson had helped other alcoholics with little or no success, A.A. is said to have begun June 10, 1935. This was the day "Dr. Bob" took his last bottle of beer, under the watch of Bill Wilson, to steady his hands for surgery.  By applying the spiritual solution of the 12 Steps and working with other alcoholics, Smith was able to stay sober from June 10, 1935, until his death in 1950 from colon cancer.

Dr. Silkworth 

To Whom It May Concern:

I have specialized in the treatment of alcoholism for many years.

In late 1934 I attended a patient who, though he had been a competent businessman of good earning capacity, was an alcoholic of a type I had come to regard as hopeless.  In the course of his third treatment he acquired certain ideas concerning a possible means of recovery.

As part of his rehabilitation he commenced to present his conceptions to other alcoholics, impressing upon them that they must do likewise with still others. This has become the basis of a rapidly growing fellowship of these men and their families. This man and over one hundred others appear to have recovered.

I personally know scores of cases who were of the type with whom other methods had failed completely.  These facts appear to be of extreme medical importance; because of the extraordinary possibilities of rapid growth inherent in this group they may mark a new epoch in the annals of alcoholism. 

These men may well have a remedy for thousands of such situations.  You may rely absolutely on anything they say about themselves.

Very truly yours,
William D. Silkworth, M.D.