Early History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous has been helping to treat alcoholism, and end the cycle of alcohol addiction for more than 80 years. Their longevity is primarily due to their simple philosophies, adopted from the Oxford Group, and the attitude of mutual help. To better understand these philosophies and attitude, it is important to know the early history of Alcoholics Anonymous, and how it became the global organization it is today.

What is the Oxford Group?

The first thing you need to know when looking into the early history of Alcoholics Anonymous is what the Oxford Group is. The Oxford Group was a Christian movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s, which had much popularity, particularly among the clergy of the Anglican Church. They preached a philosophy of four absolutes. These are:

history of AA

AA was based off the ideas of the Oxford group, which emphasized an attitude of mutual help.

  • Purity
  • Honesty
  • Unselfishness
  • Love

These absolutes gave rise to what the Oxford Group believed were the keys to spiritual enlightenment. These are:

  • The sharing of sins and temptations with another Christian.
  • Surrender of control over one’s life to God.
  • Restitution to those that you have wronged.
  • Spiritual enlightenment, through prayer and meditation, that allows you to hear God’s will and carry it out.

These things became the basis of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

How did Alcoholics Anonymous Start?

Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935, when an alcoholic named Bill Wilson, who had achieved sobriety through the philosophies of the Oxford Group, traveled to Akron, Ohio on business. There, he was tempted to drink, and decided that helping another alcoholic would help him remain sober. He was put in touch with Doctor Bob Smith, a local member of the Oxford Group and fellow alcoholic, and the two of them created the 12 steps based on the teachings of the Oxford Group.


The first decade of alcoholics anonymous was one of struggle and growth. Some of the most important events were:

The founding in 1935

  • The decision not to exist for profit in 1936.
  • The publishing of the first “Big Book” in 1939.
  • The adoption of the “Serenity” prayer in 1941.
  • The first publishing of the AA Grapevine magazine in 1944.
  • The travels of Bill Wilson to spread the word throughout this span of ten years.

These years were formative and essential to setting up the organization of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA And The Benjamin Franklin Effect


The next 10 years were even more important to Alcoholics Anonymous. The important events of this time period were related to the global spread of Alcoholics Anonymous, and included:

  • The first meeting in Ireland in 1946.
  • The spread to England in 1947.
  • The adoption of a Swedish offshoot group in 1948.
  • The founding of a Scottish AA chapter in 1949.
  • The first International and General Service meetings of the group.
  • The adoption of the 12 Traditions in 1950.
  • The founding of the first associated group, Al-Anon, in 1952.
  • The meeting of the Board of Trustees, in 1955, where Bill Wilson gave over stewardship of the program to its members.

According to Alcoholics Anonymous, these events paved the way for the spread of Alcoholics Anonymous, and allowed it to become the organization that it is today. All of this history created the philosophies and attitudes that will allow Alcoholics Anonymous to help people overcome their addictions for years to come. For more information on the history of 12 step programs or to find one that is right for you call us at 1-800-895-1695. We can help you find the right treatment for your alcohol addiction.

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