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Who's Gideon?

A member of the evangelical Christian organization Gideon's International putting a Bible in a hotel room.

A new, eye-catching version of the Gideon's Bible.

Answers to the big questions behind small, simple, ubiquitous things in the world of business.

That's Gideon, as imagined in 1907.

They're as ubiquitous as tiny soaps and starchy towels -- those leather bound books hidden in the drawers of night stands in nearly every hotel in the country. And they have his name all over them.

Who is Gideon, and how did he get those Bibles in there?

I'd always wondered. The story starts in 1898 with a crowded hotel and two men weary enough to share a room with a stranger. John Nicholson and Samuel Hill were both traveling businessmen when they met in the lobby of the Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wis. There was just one vacancy with two beds, and in keeping with the times, the men decided to split it.

There were no plasma TVs or pay-per-view back then, of course, so once they checked in, the men had nothing to do but talk. After awhile, they hit on a topic they were both passionate about– their faith. By the end of the evening, the men made plans to create an evangelical association for Christian businessmen.

A year later, those men set up a meeting at a YMCA in Janesville, Wis., but were disheartened when only one other person showed up. That man was William Knights, and what he lacked in numbers he made up for in ideas. He suggested the group call themselves "The Gideons," based on a story in the Old Testament, of a man leading a band of untrained men to battlefield victory.

It took some ten years for the group to amass numbers, and most of the members were travelers just like its founders. The Gideons decided since they were already traveling the country, the best way to spread the good word was to put copies of the Bible in the hotel rooms they frequented. The first Gideon’s Bible was placed in a nightstand at the Superior Hotel in Superior, Mont. in 1908.

More than 100 years later, the group has ballooned to more than 300,000 members and along the way added "International" to its name. Throughout its run, Gideons International has managed to place more 1.8 billion Bibles in hotels in 196 countries. On average, the group says it distributes more than two copies of the Bible per second, and often holds a ceremony with new hoteliers, bequeathing the building with its first book.

 

About the author

Tommy is a producer on Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal. Before that he worked at CNN Radio as a producer, correspondent and anchor, where he covered everything from the national elections to a story where he had to hike through a New Jersey swamp wearing a blindfold. Before CNN Radio, Tommy worked at both CNN.com and CNN TV, and, before that, did a stint at This American Life.

A new, eye-catching version of the Gideon's Bible.

Answers to the big questions behind small, simple, ubiquitous things in the world of business.

That's Gideon, as imagined in 1907.

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