10 November 1908: First Gideon Bibles placed in hotel rooms

If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel, and let’s face it, you probably have, you may have come across a copy of the Bible, discreetly placed in a bedside drawer. As most people know, these are Gideon Bibles. But how did they come to be in virtually every hotel room in the West?

In 1898, an American businessman, John H Nicholson, found himself staying over in Boscobel, Wisconsin, on business. The hotel he was staying in – the Central Hotel – was full, so he had to share a room with another businessman, Samuel E Hill.

They got talking, found common ground in religion, and decided to create an association of Christian commercial travellers.

They held a public meeting, but only one person turned up – a William J Knights. Undeterred, the three pressed on with their association, and decided to call it the Gideons, after a figure from the Old Testament. The association slowly grew over the next few years as more and more businessmen joined.

One member, Fred Woodcock, had visited Britain, where he was inspired by the Commercial Travellers’ Christian Association and its practice of slipping Bibles into hotel rooms. He put the idea to his fellow Gideons as a way of bringing more travellers into the fold.

And so, on 10 November, 1908, the Gideons placed their first 25 Bibles in the Superior Hotel in Superior (now Iron Mountain), Montana. Since then, they have placed over 1.8 billion Bibles in hotels, prisons, hospitals and schools.

The group claims that over 25% of people who stay in hotels read the bibles they place. And their success has encouraged other faiths, too. The Marriott chain of hotels carries the Book of Mormon in many of its rooms – its founder, J Willard Marriott was himself a devout Mormon.

However, you might not find one in every hotel room.

The Travelodge chain took the decision to remove them from the rooms of all 500 of its hotels in 2007. Nobody noticed until 2014, when the Daily Mail and Twitter found out and, predictably, exploded in a storm of righteous indignation.

And in 2012, , the Damson Dene Hotel in the Lake District replaced its bedside Bibles with copies of 50 Shades of Grey. These served the dual purpose of drumming up huge publicity for the hotel, and sending insomniac guests to sleep.


Also on this day

10 November 1980: Michael Foot elected Labour leader

On this day in 1980, Michael Foot won the Labour party leadership election, steering the party into its worst-ever general election defeat. Read more here.