Dinner Stories

One of the main reasons the Big Book was written was to provide income-  a representative of Harper and Brothers promised Bill he could expect AT LEAST $40,000 for a self-help text that would prove a cure for alcoholism. The fact that it would also provide an inexpensive way to get AA’s program of recovery to many suffering alcoholics was great… But it wasn’t the whole or even main purpose of writing the book.

In the early days of AA, after the new program ideas were agreed to by Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith and the majority of AA members, they envisioned paid AA missionaries and free or inexpensive treatment centers. But initial fundraising efforts failed. The solution? Book Sales.

In 1938, Bill Wilson’s brother-in-law Leonard Strong contacted Willard Richardson, who arranged for a meeting with A. Leroy Chapman, an assistant for John D. Rockefeller Jr. Wilson envisioned receiving millions of dollars to fund his long-dreamed AA missionaries and treatment centers, but Rockefeller refused, saying money would spoil things. Instead, he agreed to contribute $5,000 in $30 weekly increments for Wilson and Smith to use for personal expenses.

Later, in 1940, Rockefeller also held a dinner for AA that was presided over by his son Nelson and was attended by wealthy New Yorkers as well as members of the newly founded AA. Wilson hoped the event would raise much money for the group, but upon conclusion of the dinner, Nelson stated that Alcoholics Anonymous should be financially self-supporting and that the power of AA should lie in one man carrying the message to the next, not with financial reward but only with the goodwill of its supporters.

Although Wilson would later give Rockefeller credit for the idea of AA being nonprofessional, he was initially disappointed with this consistent position; and after the first Rockefeller fundraising attempt fell short, he abandoned plans for paid missionaries and treatment centers. Instead, Wilson and Smith formed a nonprofit group called the Alcoholic Foundation and published a book that shared their personal experiences and what they did to stay sober. The book they wrote, Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book), is the basic text for AA on how to stay sober, and it is from the title of this book that the group got its name.

Entire Transcript of the Dinner

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