Influx of Members Expected in Early A.A.

'At Least a Million Alcoholics Will Hear of Us'

Writer Jack Alexander
Jack Alexander. The Saturday Evening Post

Bill W. had his last drink in December 1934. Bill met Dr. Bob on Mother's Day in 1935 and Dr. Bob had his last drink in mid-June 1935. The Big Book was published April 10, 1939, and the first meeting to be called an AA meeting separate from the Oxford Group was held on May 11, 1939, in Cleveland, Ohio.

1940 was a slow year for AA growth around the country. Small meetings were being started and other than the articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the LIBERTY Magazine article and other similar publicity many people had not heard of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Cleveland A.A. Grows Quickly

The major growth of AA centered around Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland had seven meetings by the end of 1940 and an over 90 percent recovery success rate. New York was having little success keeping people sober and Akron didn't break from the Oxford Group until the fall of 1939.

A major national magazine had heard of Alcoholics Anonymous and thought it was just another quack cure. They sent one of their best investigative reporters to do an expose' on the fledgling organization. This reporter had just completed an expose' of organized crime and was ready to do the same for AA.

Jack Alexander Takes an Interest

In late 1940, Jack Alexander contacted the New York Alcoholic Foundation office at 30 Vesey St. in order to get the necessary information to write his article. He met with Bill W. and Ruth Hock (non-alcoholic).

He attended some meetings and read the Big Book. He was so taken with what he found he decided that an expose' was not warranted and decided to do a favorable article instead.

Phenomenal Success in Cleveland

Jack Alexander wanted to see how AA was working in other areas of the country. It was recommended to him that he visit Akron and especially Cleveland where the growth and success were so phenomenal.

Ruth Hock wrote to Clarence S. (Home Brewmeister), one of the original 100 members of AA who was sponsored by Dr. Bob in order to prepare the Ohio members for Alexander's arrival.

Big Expectations

"One of their (Saturday Evening Post) staff writers is definitely on the job and is now doing the rounds of some of our New York meetings. He will be out here to attend at least one Cleveland and one Akron meeting and is going to look you up for a talk. He is a very thorough person and we all feel that the result will be one exceptionally good article which should mean a lot in many ways. His name is Jack Alexander and I think he will be out here in about two weeks."

Jack Alexander did visit Cleveland and went to several of their meetings. A large portion of the article text related to his experiences in Cleveland. Clarence wrote to Bill for a preview of the article in order to prepare the "boys and gals" for the influx of new prospects.

"We have had over 700 contacts here and have prepared a couple more sanitarium set-ups to take care of any possible overflow of inquiries... We are prepared for a rush, if one occurs, in any degree. With all the members we have, it will not be difficult to absorb any amount now."

Beginner Meetings at Crawford Road

Due to the large influx of new prospects coming into Cleveland AA, Clarence had initiated a meeting specifically to indoctrinate new members and take them through the 12 Steps.

This meeting was comprised of older member's teaching Beginner "Classes" at the Crawford Road Men's Group. The Crawford Road Group was founded in February 1941 and by the end of their first year had over 135 members.

The New York AA office was also preparing for the prospect of increased membership due to the article. Bill wrote in a Memorandum To The Board Of Trustees Of The Alcoholic Foundation dated February 19, 1941.

"An article is to appear on March 1st in the Saturday Evening Post. This piece will be the feature number of that issue. The name Alcoholics Anonymous will appear on the outside cover of the magazine. Our message will be brought straight to the whole nation - nearly every one of at least a million alcoholics will hear of us."

Big Book Sales Still Slow

Everyone was preparing for the onslaught of new prospective members and of course, Big Book sales. Of the almost 4,800 books printed in April 1939, they still had approximately 4,000 left.

Bill had hoped to have been sold out of Big Books during the first month after it was released. Unfortunately, after almost two years, there were still thousands of copies left. Maybe this article would be the break and turning point Bill was counting on.