116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Christian Traveling Men’s Association, more commonly known as the Gideons, began as a Christian organization at the turn of the 20th century, with a Cedar Rapids man an early leader in the group known for placing Bibles in hotel rooms.
Conditions for Gideon membership included membership in an evangelical church, being a commercial traveling salesman and agreeing to wear the Gideon lapel button to identify oneself to fellow salesmen.
The button, engraved with a two-handled white pitcher and a flaming torch, represented items used by the Old Testament’s Gideon against the Midianite army.
The Gideons trace their beginnings to September 1898 in a Boscobel, Mich., hotel.
Two Wisconsin salesmen, Samuel Hill of Beloit and John Nicholson of Janesville, agreed to share a room in the fully booked hotel. When they were settled in at bedtime, Nicholson told his roommate, “I am a Christian man and make it a practice to read a chapter from the Bible before retiring for the night.”
Hill said, “I, too, am a Christian and will be glad to join you.”
The friendship was renewed the following year in Beaver Dam, Wis. The two started talking about forming an organization of Christian traveling men. They sent letters to their Christian compatriots, asking them to meet at Janesville on July 1, 1899.
The meeting drew only three men, the original two and W.J. Knight of Janesville.
Undaunted, the three decided to organize anyway with Hill as president, Knight as vice president and Nicholson as secretary-treasurer. Seven months later, Cedar Rapids stove salesman Asahel Burlington Thomas Moore joined the Gideons.
The first national convention was held in Waukegan, Ill., on July 1, 1900. The members met at a central location, then fanned out to churches in the area and took over the pulpits to talk about the evangelical work of the Gideons.
The Iowa Gideons held their first state convention on Dec. 1-2, 1900, in Marshalltown, with 29 members attending.
Moore took the pulpit at the Presbyterian church to talk about the possibilities of the Gideon movement. He told the men gathered that doing God’s work should begin while men were young, not when they reached old age.
At the Illinois state convention in Chicago in 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was persuaded to speak. When the service at the First Methodist Church was over, Roosevelt was unanimously elected as an honorary Gideon.
The organization began to grow.
“Iowa was the first to organize as a state and today has five local camps,” The Gazette reported in 1902. “Thirty-seven states are represented in the organization, but three-fourths of the entire membership are in three states, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.
“The membership is increasing very rapidly, and the Gideon button can be seen every day among the army of traveling men who pass through Cedar Rapids.”
Cedar Rapids convention
The third annual national convention of Gideons — which had grown to 2,000 members — was scheduled for July 4-6 in Cedar Rapids.
Moore was in charge of a local camp and chaired the entertainment committee. The first session was held at the English Lutheran Church (now First Lutheran) on Friday. Saturday’s session was at St. Paul’s Methodist and was open to the general public.
Convention delegates elected Moore as vice president of the Gideons.
One noted attendee was John V. Farwell, a dry goods millionaire from Chicago, who had a hand in starting Marshall Field’s.
Bibles in hotel rooms
The idea to place Bibles in hotels was not formalized by the Gideons until September 1908 in Kansas City.
The idea for “The Bible Project” was proposed by Moore’s Cedar Rapids pastor, Dr. E.R. Burkhalter, at the state convention in Cedar Rapids earlier that year. He suggested churches help pay for the Bibles.
In 1909, Moore was elected national president of the Gideons. Two years later, Gideons at the national convention voted to become an international body.
Moore remained president until 1917, when he became ill, and Vice President J. Harry Humphreys was elected to succeed him.
The next year, Moore had recovered, and the convention in Denver chose Moore to be its national executive secretary. Moore moved his family to Oak Park, Ill., and took office Jan. 1, 1919. He retired in 1932 and moved to Minneapolis to live with his son, A.B.T. Moore Jr.
Moore returned to Cedar Rapids for Iowa’s state convention in 1936, telling a Gazette reporter about his biography, “A Brand From the Burning.”
In the book, he wrote about his days as a young delinquent who grew up to fall in love with a girl who sang in the church choir. The book described picnics on the Cedar and Indian Creek and at Palisades.
Moore died in Minneapolis in April 1944 at the age of 85. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Cedar Rapids. He had served as an elder at Central Park Presbyterian in Cedar Rapids and First Presbyterian in Oak Park. In Minneapolis, he was member of Westminster Presbyterian.
Today, Gideons International has given away more than 2 billion copies of the Scriptures, in more than 95 languages, around the world.