MacDonaldís advertises "One Billion Sold." The Gideons can also boast of "One Billion": Bibles placed free of charge "in the traffic lanes of life" all over the world.
For over 90 years, Gideons International has "shared (the) message of how God sent His son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins and through faith in Him we are assured eternal life." They are a nonsectarian association of Christian business and professional men, an evangelistic organization with the primary task of distributing free Bibles.
Gideons International officially came into being at Janesville, Wisconsin in 1899, but the process of founding began a year earlier in Boscobel, Wisconsin. Two commercial travelers found themselves in an overcrowded hotel. John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill discovered they were both Christians and held evening devotions together. After a preliminary meeting in Beaver Dam, Wis., (May, 1899), they agreed to meet three months later to establish an organization of Christian travelers. In Janesville, the two men, along with Will J. Knights, then decided to "band Christian commercial travelers together for mutual recognition, personal evangelism, and united service for the Lord."
They spent a lot of time deciding on a name for their association. After some special prayers, they chose "Gideons" to commemorate the victory of Gideon over the Midianites (Judges: 6,7). The biblical Gideon was willing to do exactly what God wanted. The great elements of character in Gideon were humility, faith, and obedience. Gideon International works to establish these traits in all of its members
Almost all of the early Gideons were traveling men. The logical place to witness effectively was in the hotels where they spent much of their time. A Bible left behind would be a "silent witness" when the men were gone.
At a convention of the Ministerial Union (1908), members of the clergy passed this resolution: "That Gideon Bibles be placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the funds." Thus the church took a stand to give the Gideons financial support.
Later that same year, a Gideon convention adopted a plan to furnish a Bible for each bedroom of every hotel in the United States. The very first distribution of Bibles occurred at the Superior Hotel in Iron Mountain, Michigan in November, 1908.
From that beginning, the Gideons have expanded their operations to other locations such as doctorsí offices, hospitals, schools (5th grade and up), colleges (since 1972), nursing homes (beside each bed), prisons, military bases (since 1941); and since 1999, police stations, firehouses, and EMT locations.
In the years following its inception, the Gideons have grown until they are today active in over 170 countries, distributing Bibles in 80 languages. Every year, 58 million are dispersed free of charge. This averages out to 1 million placed every seven days and over 100 each minute.
One technique employed by the association is called a "blitz." A large number of members go to one city and hand out Bibles in all the "traffic lanes of life" over a concentrated time, usually about a week.
Membership in the organization is over 140,000. They publish a monthly magazine, "The Gideon." Their logo consists of a lamp inside a two-handled pitcher.
Gideons are all laymen from various evangelical denominations. Each is an active member of a local church
A story is told about two ladies traveling together who stopped at a hotel. They didnít believe in credit cards, so they were carrying $1,000 in cash. Seeing a Gideon Bible in their room, they put their money inside. When they checked out, the currency was left behind. The maid found it and gave it to the manager. He contacted the women and told them the money was being held for them. He also asked why they hadnít used a safety deposit box that had been available. Their reply was, "We knew it would be safe in the Bible."