In 1898, a Christian association was formed in Janesville, Wisconsin, by three men. Once they decided who would be president, treasurer, and secretary, the next order of business was what to name the new organization. They decided to pray to God to help them decide. The prayer apparently worked, because not long after starting, one of the men directed the other two men to the Old Testament story about Gideon and declared, “We shall be called Gideons.”
The Old Testament story of Gideon depicted a leader who defeated an army of 125,000 with only 300 of his own, thus proving God was on his side.
During the next few years, membership in the Gideon Association grew. Almost all of the new members came from traveling Christian salesmen (also known as drummers for "drumming" up business) who spent a lot of time in hotel rooms. The Gideons speculated on how the organization could become more effective witnesses as they traveled around the country.
In 1908, one of the trustees suggested that Gideons should make it their goal to put a Bible in every hotel room in the United States. He believed it would not only be a gracious act, but also wholly in keeping with the divine mission of the Gideon Association. Thus, the Bible Project was born.
That first placement was made by Gideon Archie Bailey in the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. The hotel was constructed on the site of a log cabin built by Henry Edgar, famous for his discovery of gold at Alder Gulch.
Bailey, who was a frequent guest, approached Edna Wilkinson, the hotel's manager and asked what she thought about stocking each room with a Holy Bible. Wilkinson said it sounded like a fine idea. Thus, on Nov. 9, 1908, history was made when Mr. Bailey placed an order for 25 copies of God’s Word with the Gideon headquarters. He covered the cost of the Scriptures with a personal check. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Bailey mysteriously disappeared, never to be heard from again.
The covers of each Gideon Bible are color-coded based on which group of people they’re meant for. For instance, white Bibles are provided to medical professionals, green to college and university students, camouflage for people in the military, and orange for sidewalk distribution.
Women are not allowed to join the Gideons; it is only open to men older than 21 who are in good standing with their respective church. However, wives of the Gideons are eligible to join the Gideon International Women’s Auxiliary (who distribute Bibles with light blue covers). Currently, there are more than 300,000 members of the Gideons.
In addition to hotel rooms, the Gideons donate Bibles to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and domestic violence shelters, as well as providing Bibles in 58 languages in 140 countries. In the 100 years since the Bible Project began, Gideons have placed more than 1.9 billion Bibles.
Currently, the organization distributes more than one million Bibles throughout the world each year. This equates to a little more than two Bibles per second. In April of 2015, the Gideons had distributed more than 2 billion Bibles. Each Bible placed in a hotel room has the potential to reach more than 2,000 people in its estimated six-year life span.