In the midst of the Great Depression, Bill Wilson watched as a friend, Dr. Bob Smith, drank a beer to steady his hands before surgery. Ironically, it was that drink—Smith's last—that would signal the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Wilson, a stock broker, had been an alcoholic himself. Just a year earlier, a fellow member of the Oxford Group (a popular non-denominational Christian movement of the time) had urged him to quit. Within a week, Wilson had successfully "handed himself over to the care of God."
Excited to share his sobriety with others, Wilson decided his first prospect would be another Oxford Group member—this time, an alcoholic doctor named Bob Smith. Thirty days after working with Wilson, "Dr. Bob" famously had his final drink in an Akron, Ohio, bar.
By 1937, the two had left the Oxford Group to form Alcoholics Anonymous. Within two years they had successfully helped more 100 alcoholics (only one was a woman). Both Wilson and Smith would later credit their communal approach to addiction therapy as being instrumental in maintaining their own sobriety.
Today, there are more than 100,000 AA groups with nearly 2 million members worldwide. AA's explosive growth is due in part to the organization's uniquely inclusive structure: no officers, no dues, and only one rule—anonymity. These groundbreaking methods have since been widely used to treat addiction, inspiring offshoot groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.