Billy Graham Center

Hitting the Sawdust Trail with Billy Sunday

(The documents and images featured here are for the personal use of students, scholars and the public. Any commercial use or publication of them is strictly prohibited.)

Click on images to view full-sized photographs

Click here to link to a Web page with an online audio file of Billy Sunday's "Booze" sermon.

Tabernacle interior in Bloomington, Indiana, 1907-1908.  From Photo File:  SUNDAY, WILLIAM ASHLEY

Portrait of Sunday, 1916.  From Photo File:  SUNDAY, WILLIAM ASHLEYBilly Sunday is still one of the twentieth century's best known evangelists. By the time of his death in 1935, he had preached to millions, and it is estimated that three hundred thousand men and women were led to faith in Christ at his over two hundred campaigns. He was also recognized for his determined contribution to passing the Prohibition Amendment, and promoting the sale of war bonds during World War I. None of the recognition, however, replaces the impact Sunday had on the lives of those who hit the sawdust trail at one of his meetings.

Detail of clipping from the NEW YORK AMERICAN with Sunday as preacher and baseball player.  From Collection 29, box 1, folder 4

Sunday himself was converted at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago (1886) while playing professional baseball for the Chicago White Stockings. In 1891, he left baseball to enter full-time Christian work, first at Chicago's YMCA, and then working for itinerant evangelists. He held his first independent evangelistic crusade in Garner, Iowa, in 1896, beginning a career which spanned five decades.

Exterior of Beaver Falls (PA) tabernacle.  From Photo File:  SUNDAY, WILLIAM ASHLEY Interior of Toledo (OH) tabernacle.  From Photo File:  SUNDAY, WILLIAM ASHLEY In his heyday, Sunday's campaigns were held in temporary wooden structures or tabernacles, built for the event. Sawdust covered the tabernacle floor. Those who responded to Sunday's appeal to trust Christ walked up the sawdust covered aisles to shake the evangelist's hand. These campaigns, however, were preceded by extensive planning and prayer, and there was usually a follow-up program.

Sunday team.  From Photo File:  SUNDAY, WILLIAM ASHLEY Detail of clipping from the NEW YORK AMERICAN showing campaign organization graphic.  From Collection 29, box 1, folder 4 A Sunday campaign was the product of the contributions of many people. Sunday developed a team of co-workers which traveled with him and handled various duties, including administration and music. Key figures on this team were his wife Helen (or Ma), musicians Homer Rodeheaver and B.D. Ackley, and businesswoman Virginia Asher. Local clergy and lay volunteers were also instrumental in planning and running a Sunday evangelistic campaign.

This virtual display case contains a visual and documentary sampling of those campaigns where Sunday practiced his energetic and often criticized evangelistic style. It also highlights the contribution he and his co-workers made to evangelistic methods in America. Together these items not only illustrate Sunday's ministry but also suggest topics for your further study. If you want to learn more about Billy Sunday or evangelism in the United States, we encourage you to visit the Archives Reading Room on the third floor and/or review the guides on our website. To get a list of all of the collections in the BGC Archives with information on Billy Sunday, go to our searchable online database and search the term Sunday, Billy.

...or order reels of microfilm of the Sunday Papers by inter-library loan. The originals which comprise the microfilm edition of the Sundays' papers (Collection 61) are held by:

Grace College and Theological Seminary
Morgan Library
200 Seminary Drive
Winona Lake, Indiana 46590

Click to see a list of other institutions which also have the microfilm edition of the Sundays' Papers.

If you would like more information on how to order a video copy of The Billy Sunday Storyfrom several commercial vendors, visit the Archives FAQ page with contact details.

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Last Revised: 8/31/01
Expiration: 11/6/02indefinite