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How The Bible Got In Your Hotel Drawer

Vintage Wisconsin: Idea For Gideons Began In Wisconsin Hotel

Wisconsin Historical Society

Open just about any hotel nightstand drawer and there’s likely to be a Bible placed there by Gideons International. The idea for the organization began in a hotel room in Wisconsin.

Two traveling salesmen, John H. Nicholson, of Janesville, and Samuel E. Hill, of Beloit, met by chance in the Central Hotel in Boscobel in 1898. With all of the rooms full, the manager asked them if they would mind sharing a room, which wasn’t an unusual request at the time.

The Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The Gideons International

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In room No. 19, the two men discussed their life on the road and read the Bible together before settling down for the night. They talked about starting an organization for Christian traveling businessmen like themselves before parting ways the next morning.

Nicholson and Hill ran into each other again in a Beaver Dam hotel on May 31, 1899, and rekindled their idea of starting an organization. Faced with all kinds of vices and temptations on the road (they pointed specifically to “intoxicating liquor,” gambling, and “the most brazen of all,” the “siren who tries to steal that which is more precious than gold – a man’s pure life”) Nicholson and Hill vowed to “surround the arch enemy of our souls and give him a black eye.”

They held their first meeting in a Janesville YMCA on July 1, 1899, and despite only three people in attendance, the men officially founded The Gideons: The Christian Commercial Traveling Men’s Association.

Their mission would be to “recognize the Christian traveling-men of the world with cordial fellowship, to encourage one another in the Master’s work, to improve every opportunity for the betterment of the lives of our fellow-travelers, business men and others, with whom we may come in contact, scattering seeds all along the pathway for Christ.”

As traveling men, they struggled to come up with a way to serve God while on the road. They finally hit on the idea of placing a Bible in every hotel room in 1907, with specific passages marked that were particularly relevant to businessmen like themselves.

By 1948, the Gideons had distributed more than 15 million Bibles worldwide, work they continue to this day.

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