History of The Big Book: The Second Printing 1941

History of The Big Book: The Second Printing 1941

The 2nd Printing of the First Edition Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book was published in March 1941. The book was released at the same time as the famed Saturday Evening Post article written by Jack Alexander which hit the newsstands on March 1, 1941. Because of the national publicity AA grew from a membership of 2,000 to over 8,000 in record time. Two years have passed since the publication of the First Printing of the Big Book. AA was in its early days and during the process of getting the First Printing made there were some errors and corrections that needed to be made. Also, over those 2 years, there was evidence that the program detailed in the book worked. The fellowship was growing and more people were achieving sobriety. So when the time came for the 2nd printing there was the reluctance to change the program that worked! But some changes needed to be made. It is often heard around the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous that there have never been any changes to the Big Book. That statement is false! Changes started happening immediately with the 1941 printing. In this article, we are going to detail some of those changes.

The first and maybe most obvious to notice is that the cover on all 1st Printing books was in the red cloth with the red and yellow circus jacket. During these early days of AA much was done by trial and error – pretty much everyone was broke including Bill Wilson, he and his wife Lois had been homeless since May 1939 and remained without a home of their own until September 1941. Because there was so little money AA tried to cut as many corners as possible when it came to publishing the book. The printer Cornwall Press was so concerned about receiving payment they cut the first printing order short and only produced 4,650 copies of the April 1939 release.  All of these 1939 printings were bound in Red cloth. 

When AA requested the “Second Printing” order of 5,000 the printer was able to use a blue cloth for most of this print run. The 2nd printing came in three different colors: Navy Blue, Royal  Blue, and Red. The majority of the 5,000 copies were in the two shades of blue but a small number were made with the same red cloth left over from the 1939 printing. It’s believed that the printer may have used some of the remaining red covers on a couple dozen of the 1941 books. Also on the front cover of the blue printings, they no longer used the gold lettering for “Alcoholics Anonymous.” The gold lettering was still used on the spine:

In the very first sentance of the Forward, there was a change that now said “more than two thousand men and women” rather than “more than one hundred men and women”:

There was a change to the 12th step on page 72. “Spiritual Experience” was changed to “Spiritual Awakening.” Along with an asterisk that notifies the reader of Appendix II.

The 2nd Printing features the addition of Appendix II – “Spiritual Experience” on page 399-400. Notice the Herbert Spencer quote has not yet been added:

There was one personal story from the back of the book removed that decreased the amount of stories from 29-28. The story that was removed was titled “Lone Endeaver”. This story was removed due to the person beginning to drink again. Here is a photo of the first page of the story from the 1st Printing(you can read the full story here):

The passage titled “Now We Are Two Thousand” was added to this book in which it details the events that occurred in the two years since the First Printing was released in April 1939:

There were several other changes made in the book that were typos and edits to numbers of members in the fellowship. As you can see, changes began happening immediately to each printing of the First Edition Big Books. In the next part of this series we will focus on the 3rd Printing of the First Edition that was printed in June 1942.

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