History Of The Gideon Bible

Open the nightstand drawer in any hotel room and you'll find a Bible left by the Gideons. For nearly 100 years, the Gideons have practiced their Bible ministry. Here's how it all started.

Open the night stand drawer in almost any hotel room in the world and you will find a Bible placed there by the Gideon's International. The oldest Christian business and professional men's association in the United States, the Gideons have been around for more than 100 years, and have been placing Bibles in hotel rooms for almost that long.

The Association began in a hotel room on September 14, 1898, in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The manager of the Central Hotel there asked traveling salesmen John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wis., and Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wis., to share a room in a crowded hotel, which was hosting a lumbermen's convention. In Room 19, above the saloon, the men discovered that they were both Christians. They prayed and read the Bible together before settling down for the night. They talked about starting a Christian traveling men's association but parted ways the next morning without any definite plans. A chance meeting the following May rekindled the idea, and on July 1, 1899, the two salesmen, joined by a third, William J. Knights, met in Janesville and founded the Gideons. The name comes from the Old Testament book of Judges, and refers to a man who was willing to do whatever God asked of him. Today, the Boscobel Hotel, where the two founders met, is listed on the National Historical Register, and Room 19, where the idea of the Gideons was conceived, is marked with a special plaque.

The Gideons primary purpose has always been personal evangelization conducted by Christian business and professional men. As early as 1900, the organization considered putting Bibles at the front desk of the hotels its members stayed in, but it was not until 1908 that the association voted to place Bibles in all hotel rooms. Within 20 years of the first placement of a Gideon Bible in a hotel room, the association distributed one million Bibles. Because the Gideons so quickly became associated with hotel room Bibles, the association has, at times, had to remind its members that the Bibles are but a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The sole purpose of the group is to win men, women, boys and girls to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through personal witnessing and the distribution of Bibles and New Testaments.

Today, the association counts more than 140,000 members in 175 countries. According to its web site (www.gideonsinternational.org), the Gideons distribute more that 56 million Bibles and New Testaments every year. This averages out to be one million books every seven days, or 107 per minute. Evangelical churches of many denominations financially support the Gideons' work of distributing Bibles, not only to hotels and motels, but also to hospitals and doctors' offices, jails and prisons, elementary and high schools, colleges and universities, and military bases.

A 1997 Fodor's survey of American travelers found that 23 percent of those surveyed read the Gideons Bible in their hotel rooms. When the Bibles are taken or become too worn, the local camp of the Gideons will replace them at no charge. Often, when a new hotel opens, a representative of the local Gideons camp will present a Bible to the hotel's general manager in a solemn ceremony. Then, Bibles for the entire property are given to the housekeeping department which places one in each room. Some properties have begun offering other religious books in their hotel rooms, such as The Book of Mormon in Marriott properties or Buddhist religious texts in Nikko properties. But, for the majority of travelers, the Gideon Bible is the book they'll find when they settle into their hotel rooms for the night.

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