Why There Are Bibles in Hotel Rooms

Emily Upton 63
Rhamit asks: Why are there Bibles in hotel rooms? When did this tradition start?


“Hotel Bibles” are also called “Gideon Bibles” after Gideon International, a group of male missionaries and Christian businessmen who took it upon themselves to provide this work to hotels across the nation.

Here’s how it all started. In 1898, John H. Nicholson stayed at the crowded Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The place was so crowded that he had to share a room with another person named Samuel E. Hill. They got to talking, as you might do if you were sharing a room with a stranger, and discovered that they were both Christians. That evening, they prayed together and talked about creating an association of traveling Christian businessmen.

In 1899, they put the idea to practice. Adding another to their number—William J. Knights—the men headed a meeting at a YMCA with the purpose to create an association of men who wished to achieve “mutual recognition, personal evangelism, and united service for the Lord.”

Initially, the three men mentioned above were the only people in the association because they were the only people who actually attended the meeting. Hills was named President, Knights Vice President, and Nicholson took on the roles of both treasurer and secretary. With that done, the men decided their new organization needed a name, and what better way to come up with one than to pray to God to lead them to the best one? The prayer apparently worked, or Knights simply had an epiphany, because not long after the prayer he directed the other two men to the Old Testament story about Gideon and declared, “We shall be called Gideons.”

Gideon’s story is recorded in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Judges, chapters 6-8. He isn’t the most obvious of namesakes for a band of Christian men—one translation of his name is “destroyer.” However, Gideon was a man who was charged by God to lead a relatively small number of men (300) against a drastically larger army, and he was able to beat them. Gideon was a fitting namesake for the tiny organization who had big dreams. Gideon International says that the organization tries to keep with Gideon’s mindset… No, not hunting down and killing a massive army of Midianites, but willing to do God’s work at any time and in any way He intends it to be done.

Over the next few years, the Gideon Association gained more members, almost all of whom were travelling Christian businessmen who spent a lot of time in hotel rooms. The topic of becoming more effective witnesses in hotels arose, and in 1908 The Bible Project was adopted. The project was proposed by one of the association’s trustees who believed that the Gideons should make it their goal to put a Bible in every hotel room in the United States because it “would be a gracious act, wholly in keeping with the divine mission of the Gideon Association.”

Though the Bible Project was adopted in Louisville, Kentucky, the first Gideon Bible was actually placed in a hotel in Superior, Montana in 1908. Since then, more than 1.8 billion Bibles have been placed in hotels throughout the United States and in over 190 other countries, written in over 90 different languages.

But how do all of these Bibles get into the hotel rooms, and who pays for them all?

The Bibles are paid for entirely by donations to the group, and donations likely stem from individuals or churches who support the Gideons’ cause. As for how the Bibles end up in the hotel rooms, the Gideons will ceremoniously present a Bible to a hotel manager upon the opening of a new hotel. They then provide more than enough Bibles for each hotel room, to be distributed by the hotel staff. The Gideons will also provide replacements for Bibles that are worn or “missing”—the Gideons don’t believe that any of their Bibles have ever been stolen from hotel rooms; they are simply taken by those in need, and that’s counted as a success in their mission to spread the word of the Lord.

Supposedly, it is estimated that about 25% of people who stay in hotel rooms actually read the Gideon Bible provided to them. As Gideon International estimates that each Bible has a lifespan of roughly six years, that means that each one is read by roughly 2300 people during its hotel room stay. The numbers are based on research conducted by Gideon through the hotel industry. The Bible Project has done so well that a number of other religions have started providing literature to hotels. As such, you may find a Koran or the Book of Mormon next to your Gideon Bible at your next hotel stay.

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Bonus Facts:

  • The Gideons also provide Bibles to hospitals, prisons, and domestic violence shelters, among other places.
  • For several years, the Gideons distributed Bibles to fifth-grade students during class time in a Missouri School District. Needless to say, Bible distribution to children attending public schools ruffled a few feathers. The practice was ruled unconstitutional, though it was later amended to say that any literature approved by the superintendent was able to be distributed outside of class. Gideon Bibles are still distributed in many British schools, though some schools have banned the practice.
  • The covers of each Gideon Bible are colour-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, and camouflage for people in the military.
  • Women are not allowed to join the Gideons; it is only open to men over the age of 21 who are in good standing with their church. However, wives of the Gideons are eligible to join the Gideon International Women’s Auxillary (who distribute light blue Bibles).

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  1. Wojtek July 25, 2013 at 2:16 am - Reply

    I am curious how they came up with the 25% figure.

  2. Jim Gold July 25, 2013 at 7:47 am - Reply

    I’ve always found the Gideon’s Bibles to be quite valuable. It’s quite useful to always have some scrap paper available. I was going camping last April and was able to snag one from my hotel room to help as a fire starter. I do wish they would leave the pages blank though as it would make the book more useful as scratch paper.

    • Tonanamous October 31, 2013 at 10:17 am - Reply

      I printed out your post, and it works great for toilet paper! I guess we’re both innovators!

  3. Bob July 25, 2013 at 8:54 am - Reply

    They are also responsible for preventing many from committing suicide. There’s a large number of people who have rented them to commit suicide.

    • greg January 9, 2015 at 10:26 am - Reply

      I was an atheist for years till I came across a bible in a hotel room. It helped me see the light and turn to a life of child molesting and bigotry.

  4. Not Disclosed July 25, 2013 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Fortunately, the practice of including bibles is no longer standard for hotel rooms.

  5. Greg Esres July 25, 2013 at 9:24 am - Reply

    The 25% is likely based on self-reports, which are typically inflated for questions like this. Researches have discovered that people exaggerate their church attendance rates by 100%. So in this case, you might guess that maybe 12% actually read the bibles.

  6. Scott July 25, 2013 at 10:44 am - Reply

    I love learning new things and this article was very well written, thanks!

  7. Techni July 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    I throw them all out.

  8. wikiBuddha July 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Would you like your room religious or non?

  9. Sok Puppette July 26, 2013 at 5:53 am - Reply

    Now can you explain why hotels allow this in this day and age? It’s really offensive…

    • Nik July 26, 2013 at 4:50 pm - Reply

      Well, if you find a Bible in the drawer of the nightstand in your hotel room, you are under no obligation to read it. Just as you are under no obligation to drink the complementary coffee, or use the complementary shampoo. Or, if you’re in a ritzy hotel, drink the little bottles of alcohol in the fridge. So why is it offensive?

      • vita July 27, 2013 at 5:43 pm - Reply

        Thanks for pointing this out, Nik. I love seeing the Gideon bibles in hotel rooms. The Bible has been appreciated by geniuses like Shakespeare and Faulkner as well as by the average person, but the lofty in spirit ridicule it.

    • Jenna August 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      Please elaborate as to how this is offensive because a lot of people say things like this without understanding what offensive means.

      You aren’t required to read it to stay there- it’s complimentary.

      Would this still be offensive if it was a Koran? Or a book about atheism? Jw.

    • Kris December 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm - Reply

      It’s only offensive to small minded individuals who are discontent to allow others to have beliefs which differ from their own. The same is true of most other religious texts. There are a handful of religions which have texts that can truly be called offensive, but Christianity is not one of them.

  10. Kenny July 26, 2013 at 9:21 am - Reply

    I burn mine do my small part to rid the world of stupidity

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey July 26, 2013 at 10:33 am - Reply

      @Kenny: The funny thing there, though, is that then another Bible will be purchased to replace the one you burned in the hotel. So your book burning ways, aside from wasting paper, actually help fund the Bible makers, which is probably not what you’re going for it sounds like. :-)

    • werewife July 28, 2013 at 3:53 am - Reply

      Would you dare do the same to a Koran?

      • Matthew Smit December 13, 2013 at 6:48 am - Reply

        Dare? It’s a book. Of course I would.

  11. Brandon July 26, 2013 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    A few years ago, during one of the most difficult periods in my life, a Gideon Bible helped bring me back from the many dark and hopeless thoughts that went through my mind that day in a lonely hotel room. I give thanks to my Lord and God for using such means to deliver me from my sins.

  12. mtlogger July 27, 2013 at 6:32 am - Reply

    And here is Superior, MT we have the honor to have the first gideon bible place in a hotel.

  13. cloudbuster July 27, 2013 at 5:14 pm - Reply

    Interesting how this article brought out several examples of that most interesting type of individual: the sort of person who both considers himself very enlightened and above such nonsense as religion, and who is also the sort of person who thinks there is nothing wrong with destroying books that contain ideas he doesn’t agree with.

    • RandyB July 27, 2013 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      I thought the same, cloudbuster.

      It’s kind of like seeing the tragedy of the commons in action.

      It’s also worth noting Brandon’s reply, where he remembers needing the Gideons while we see here that the spoilers wanted to prevent that. The Gideons need to work extra hard to overcome.

    • morganm July 27, 2013 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      it really is interesting, but you can find their smugness everywhere. they love the peer-approval they get from taking free shots at christianity, and it’s safe. look for them when it comes to islam and they pull a dawkins ““well, um, the god of the koran i don’t know so much about.”

      it takes a fairly intolerant person to be stirred to destructive action over an entirely voluntary and non-intrusive act like this.

      as an aside i’d guess the percent that reads them closer to 5% or less. it rarely crosses my mind and i’ve never seen someone do it.

  14. ftoink July 27, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    It’s not bad to have around if it’s the end of a loooong day, you’re sick of being tethered to electronics all day and you’re itching to read something.

    So I just open it and read something at random. Maybe it’ll be something inspiring, maybe it’ll be an endless list of who begat whom, maybe it’ll be Leviticus with advice on where to splash the blood when sacrificing a goat. ‘Dexter’ could hardly be more entertaining.

  15. Davros July 27, 2013 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Yes, the well of hate runs deep for a book that some deem worthless.

  16. Park Slope Pubby July 27, 2013 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    The Gideon Bibles have gotten me, and many people I know, through very difficult times. Often, when you’re traveling, it’s becuase there’s some sort of problem in your life.

    What makes them so great is the page in front that lists the various problems you might be having, and gives suggested Bible readings.

    If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night in despair, and thought, “oh well, I may as well check out the Gideon Bible,” and found comfort there, you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, then leave the books there for the rest of us.

  17. Jim Trikakis July 27, 2013 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    Funny thing is, I used newspapers to start my charcoal when I want to cook out. Since newspapers are all about bad news and the fire is what is waiting for those whom end up in hell, they seem to go together quite well. I’ve read the Bible well over 20 times and I can’t remember any bad news coming from it. Oh, bad things do come to bad people in the Bible, that should be a clear warning to everyone.

  18. PacRim Jim July 27, 2013 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    A more troubling question:
    Why are there hotel rooms around Bibles?

  19. CptNerd July 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    When I stayed at various hotels in Japan, there was always a bilingual English/Japanese Gideon bible, as well as a bilingual book of Buddhist writings. A couple of places I stayed at in California had copies of the Book of Mormon, but I haven’t run into any in the eastern US.

  20. Scott July 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    I still have the Bible I received in 1984 that was presented to all entering cadets at West Point – by the Gideons.

    I have used it now for almost 30 years.

  21. curmudgeoninchief July 27, 2013 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    Just shows to go you that all you need to supply a comment in a forum such as this is a computer, not a brain. Kenny, Sok Pupette, Techni, and Jim, try growing a brain before your next submission. You don’t have to read the books, but you also don’t have to crap on them.

  22. KSM July 27, 2013 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    I’ve read from many a Gideon Bible while traveling. Their presence keeps me from having to lug my own in my luggage. And sometimes a paper book is more enjoyable to read from than my iPad.

    I appreciate the Gideons supplying such good material. And I find the intolerance of those who would destroy Bibles to be quite sad.

  23. Eric Ashley July 28, 2013 at 1:38 am - Reply

    I’ve read, even though, not most of the time. I’m glad to have them there.

    I’ve seen a Book of Mormon in the eastern US.

    Its not likely someone burned one because that would tend to set off fire alarms, and firefighters are not going to be amused by such vandalism.

  24. Dan July 28, 2013 at 2:03 am - Reply

    Here in Japan you often find a Gideon Bible and a copy of the Buddhist scriptures. I’ve picked up and read the Bibles as literature when I didn’t have anything else to read…better than nothing, although I’m not religious. I’m not offended, and would not be offended to find a Koran in my hotel room on a trip to Egypt.

  25. Thomas Karras July 28, 2013 at 3:39 am - Reply

    The haters do come out of the wood work. When I travel I regularly read the Gideon bible in my hotel room and I know several others who do to. Why ridicule or seek to suppress an innocent practice.

    • Rebekah December 14, 2013 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      When I have to stay in a hotel/motel; once I get settled, I always sit down and look through the bible in my room. I often find hand written notes/thoughts that make me reflect on the scripture that is in front of me. A few years ago I began to write my own thoughts in a bible that appears untouched hoping that someone else does the same thing as I do.

  26. Bill July 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Too bad there are so many critics of the Bible. Perhaps, if the time were taken to read this great book, and the advice given were followed, one would really benefit from its teachings. It works for me! Thanks Gideons!!!!

  27. LOVEPAREEK August 13, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply


  28. Kannabis September 8, 2013 at 8:15 am - Reply

    I personally am very thankful for the bibles in hotel rooms. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have run out of zigzags in a strange place, and no-one misses one page, and I get free rolling papers.

  29. The Man September 26, 2013 at 8:17 am - Reply

    It’s easy to bash the bible when your hiding behind your anonymous screen, wildly pecking away at the keyboard, in an effort to sound shocking, to gain some sort of attention that is apparently lacking in your life, and yes this is a run on sentence for those that feel they are grammar police. May God bless you all!

  30. Stanly (India) December 3, 2013 at 4:09 am - Reply

    It is really wonder how the word of God (Bible) reached every corner of the World and reform their life. Gideon is done good for the needy.

  31. Sanity December 29, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    There’s no proof of god, want to believe in ghosts and make believe creatures, good for you, just don’t shove that trash down everybody’s throat. And why a bible? Why not some other religion? How arrogant is that? What about a science book instead? That’d be a lot more useful.

  32. Ug January 7, 2014 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Ew, such passive-aggressive proselytizing, just ugh.

  33. zach March 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Hey guys I`ve got a revalution to share`how about we start an organization to spread a copy of Charles Darwin`s“The origin of species“in every hotel room around the world. The motive for this act would not be to save people from burning hell fire but to give people the opportunity to become more scientificly literate and become more educated about some of the most important ideas in science. No doubt this act would cause outrage among Christian fundamentalist` many people would be offended by it just as many people are offended by the Gideon Bibles in their hotel rooms but people have the freedom to spread ideas that are important to them. If these people don`t like the ideas presented in the book don`t read it simple as that` for all the people making posting comments here saying people shouldn`t ridicule and mock books that contain ideas they don`t agree with` well I agree that people should have the right to spread ideas that are important to them but so do other people who have alternative ideas then theirs. If religious groups have the right to do this then so do more secular groups.

  34. Barry April 7, 2014 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    I am a what you would call a fundamentalist CHRISTIAN. It would not offend me in the least what you want to place in a hotel room or any other room.God gives us a free will to choose to believe in HIM or not.After all why would he not ,he created us .Where do you think we came from ? The bible is GODS instruction book on how to live in this world with LOVE and Compassion for others. WOW that must be a REALLY BAD BOOK I GUESS. For all the folks who want to take shots at the bible try actually reading it before jumping to conclusions.Why is it the most read book in the history of the world? HMM ? HMM
    I wonder if there is more to the bible than the from cover Choose what you want to read God gives you that freedom, but choose wisely because when this world comes to an end as it talks about in the bible there will be consequences. HAPPY READING.

  35. David April 18, 2014 at 7:11 am - Reply

    I was not a christian till October 2013, but before that whatever hotel room I was in I always used to have a look through a Gideons Bible if I was on my own and it would always help me find some peace…

    It is a good thing what the Gideons do, because I suspect most people do not carry bibles and I often wondered where and how all these bibles came to be in hotels and how it was paid for…

  36. Anonymous September 23, 2014 at 8:15 am - Reply

    If so much of you are such dedicated believers in god, you should travel with your own bible and not enforce the thinking that you should have a book in a hotel room that “save lives” or helps you have “lighter luggage”. All religions based on the governance of supreme beings give reason for the weak minds to hide themselves behind poor excuses for their way of life. Hard believers cannot understand, and do not give themselves the opportunity to understand, the logics that really govern their surroundings, be it tiny or universal. Ask yourself, what is more scary : one who thinks there is heaven and hell and who will gladly die for it, or thinks that when you die, you vanish into nothingness? The great majority fear the second, thus vote for the first. When you finally catch that the greatest instincts of all and every form of life on earth is survival and procreation, you start to understand why intelligent beings, humans, find all ways imaginable to explain the unknown and thus calm down their instinctual fear of meaningless lives and nothingness. Someone above asked why atheists prefer to stay anonymous? Easy answer, the greatest atrocities in human history are all born from the stupidity of large groups of people thinking themselves superior under their radical beliefs, aka, religions. As an atheist, my instinct of preservation makes me fear throngs of idealogical yet empty minded followers. Brand the unbeliever! Burn the heretics! Destroy everyone who does not agree with you! Yay for religions!…

  37. John October 1, 2014 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    The Bible is left in a drawer to be available to anyone who may want to read it. It couldn’t be less intrusive. I’m sad to read that people get so upsetabout something that others find a source of comfort

  38. Kris December 10, 2014 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    It always amazes me how many people are offended by the beliefs of complete strangers. I don’t get it. Why would you be offended by something that does you no harm and brings comfort to someone else?

    I guess some people just need to hate on something. And that makes me sad.

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