It is the 10th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1908.
At the beginning of the year 1908, the New York World magazine published an article titled "1808-1908-2008." The purpose of the article was to point out the dizzying speed of American growth from Lewis and Clark's time to the present, to the far distant year in the future: 2008.
Predictions for 2008 included a U.S. population of over 450 million, "gyroscopic trains as big as houses." Furthermore, it was supposed that the future would be wireless, with communication devices directly in men's hats. The same publication suggested that the future would hold "airplanes winging the once unconquerable air." It was only months after that Wilbur Wright would famously take to the air for a record flight in front of a collection of skeptical Frenchmen in Le Mans.
The automobile was the other exotic form of travel that garnered interest this year. The Model T was first introduced, and the Great Auto Race of 1908 held the world in rapt attention. The Great Auto Race was an international race in the newly invented car that would take the 4 International teams 169 days to travel over 22,000 miles and across three continents. The cars had to drive across America (before any kind of highway system), through Canada, and across the hopefully frozen Bering Straits from Alaska to Russia. The U.S. team won with the American Thomas Flyer, a 4,000 dollar car that weighed over 5,000 pounds with four cylinders and 60 horsepower.
It was an age of increased travel, and with that came opportunities to make money. Traveling salesmen would become the newest fad as men looking for work would hit the road to sell any number of wares. These "traveling salesmen" would soon develop a reputation for carousing and boozing while on the road. This would help the prohibitionists who could use these traveling men as bogeymen for their cause. Others, however, sought different ways to try and influence the increasingly modern and secular world. On this, the 10th of November in 1908, traveling salesman Archie Bailey placed the first Gideons Bible in a hotel in Superior, Montana. It was 25 Bibles that he arranged to purchase from the Gideons to put in each of the hotel's 25 rooms. We have talked before a bit about the Gideons. Their ministry still exists today, and they have placed over 2 billion Bibles in hotel rooms worldwide.
Gideons are best understood in their late 19th/early 20th-century context. Consider it like the way that the Salvation Army is best understood in light of 19th-century working-class poverty, world missions, and a growing distrust of the so-called "Mainliners." Gideons International was meant as a fraternal Christian group for men, not a denomination, and not even a distributor of Bibles. But when Archie Bailey requested copies for the Superior Hotel, one of the most iconic bits of 20th century Americana hotel culture was born.
The placing of the Bible in hotel rooms by traveling salesmen was accidental to the original ministry, which saw itself as something comparable to modern men's ministries. Think of it like an old-timey "Promise Keepers." It was then and is now, only for men. This is worth pointing out as it helped shape a trend of Bible studies and gatherings based on sex. While men getting together was not new, a new branch of unaffiliated "women's ministries" would soon follow.
As the number of confessing Christians has waned in the United States, so has the Gideons bible mission to place Bibles in every hotel room. Due to the pandemic, the organization has cut back on its bible production due to overproduction, the declining economy, and funding. They still have the Marriott, though. The hotel chain requires that a Bible and a book of Mormon be placed in every one of their hotel rooms. Expect for their Moxy and Edition brand millennial-friendly hotels who have decided to remove all religious literature as it doesn't fit their brand. I'm not sure what that means.
The Gideons are in a reimagining phase as they look to emphasize personal evangelization in a digital age. It was a different age back then, a burgeoning modern age, and it was on this, the 10th of November in 1908, that the first Gideons Bible was placed in the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana.
The reading for today comes from St. Augustine, a famous quote on our Lord's Incarnation.
Man's maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother's breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, who "checked into his room / only to find Gideon's Bible." The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true… Everything is going to be ok.