Please Don’t Drink To My Success

Today there are Alcoholics Anonymous branches around the world with an estimated membership of over two million
Today there are Alcoholics Anonymous branches around the world with an estimated membership of over two million

by Ray Setterfield


June 10, 1935 — The last thing America’s “Doctor Bob” would have wanted is for anyone to toast his success – even though it was considerable.

He himself took his last drink on this day – a glass of beer – and one of the best-known self-help groups in the world, Alcoholics Anonymous, began its journey.

Born Robert Holbrook Smith at Vermont in 1879, he graduated as a medical doctor from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire at the age of 21. But he had started drinking and became known among students for being able to down a whole bottle of beer without his Adam’s apple moving.

After Dartmouth Smith enrolled in medical school at the University of Michigan and then attended the Rush Medical School in Chicago to complete his training. But his drinking had become compulsive and was affecting his professional medical competence.

He thought a change of air might help and he moved to Akron, Ohio. There he went into private practice as a surgeon specialising in colorectal surgery. And he married his high school sweetheart, Anne Robinson Ripley.

But Smith was drinking heavily again and according to one report he could not operate on a patient without a few drinks first. Over the next 17 years, he attended over 12 different sanitariums and hospitals in attempts to get sober.

No solution to the problem presented itself until in 1935 Smith met Bill Wilson, a businessman from New York who had faced the same struggle for many years. The two men formed an immediate bond and began searching for ways to solve their joint problem.

They became certain that alcoholism could only be conquered if fellow drinkers offered their support. And that could work only if people shared their fight anonymously. So, with the first self-help group set up in Akron, Smith became “Doctor Bob” and Wilson took the name “Bill W”.

And when Smith drank his last glass of beer on June 10, 1935, with Wilson as a witness, this is generally seen as the official founding date for Alcoholics Anonymous. Smith was sober from then until he died from colon cancer in 1950, aged 71.

Alcoholics Anonymous was and still is by far the best-known self-help group in the world. The organisation has never attempted to keep formal membership records but it is estimated that the number of people involved globally exceeds two million.

Published: April 27, 2021


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