Billy Sunday History

William Ashley "Billy" Sunday (November 19, 1862 - November 6, 1935) was noted first as a professional baseball player, and then more famous evangelist.

Born in Ames, Iowa, Sunday grew up the son of a single mother, and the family endured significant poverty during his childhood. His father, also named William, enlisted in the Iowa Infantry Volunteers four months before Sunday was born. He died, a month after Sunday was born, of an unknown disease contracted in Patterson, Missouri while on duty. Sunday's mother was left a widow and mother of three sons. She later remarried and had another son and a daughter.

At the age of 12, Sunday and his older brother were sent to Soldier's Orphanage in Glenwood, Iowa. He ran away from the orphanage two years later and worked for Colonel John Scott in Nevada, Iowa as a stable boy tending Shetland ponies. Scott gave Sunday a home and the opportunity to attend school. (The 4-H baseball field in Nevada, Iowa is named the Billy Sunday field.)

Sunday left high school before graduating and moved to Ames, Iowa to play on the baseball team. Shortly thereafter he moved to Marshalltown, Iowa. There he worked at odd jobs: was a runner on a competitive track team and played in the outfield for the local baseball team.

Marshalltown native (and future Baseball Hall-of-Famer) Cap Anson saw Sunday play after being told by the Marshalltown coach that he should come see Sunday play. Anson signed Sunday on to the league-leading Chicago White Stockings. Although Sunday struck out his first thirteen times at bat he was acknowledged to be the champion sprinter of the National League. At one point Sunday raced Arlie Latham, chamption sprinter of the American League, and Sunday beat him by fifteen feet. Sunday played professional baseball for eight years for the Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia teams.

In 1887, after a night of drinking with some of his teammates, Sunday was invited to attend a service at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Illinois. He began attending services at the mission regularly, and it was after one of these services that he accepted Jesus Christ as his saviour and was "born again." Sunday married Helen A. Thompson in September 1888, and in 1891 he quit baseball to devote his energies to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Sunday spent time as an assistant to another evangelist before embarking solo in 1896. He was ordained as a preacher in the Presbyterian church in 1903. Sunday was one of the first prominent preachers to make use of the then-new medium of radio.

Billy Sunday is most noted for his "fire-and-brimstone" approach to evangelism. Holding a strictly fundamentalist view, he would often preach fiery sermons against political liberalism, evolution, alcohol, and so forth. His energy and vitality won many converts. This in turn led to his accumulating a small fortune through contributions at his sermons. He died a wealthy man in 1935 at the depth of the Depression when about one-third of the population was unemployed. He left a large estate as well as trust funds for his children.

Sunday is noted as being one of the major social influences in the temperance movement leading to the adoption of Prohibition in 1919. One of his most famous sermons was "Booze, Or, Get on the Water Wagon," which convinced many people to give up drinking. As the tide of public opinion turned, he continued to strongly support Prohibition, and after its repeal in 1933, Sunday called for its reintroduction. He said “ I am the sworn, eternal and uncompromising enemy of the liquor traffic. I have been, and will go on, fighting that damnable, dirty, rotten business with all the power at my command.” Sunday preached that “whiskey and beer are all right in their place, but their place is in hell.”

His popularity waned in his later years and he even became the subject of derision. One of his revival songs, ‘Brighten the Corner Where You Are,’ became a drinking song in the blind pigs that prospered during Prohibition. One line, ‘Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar’ called the waiter for another stein of beer.” But, true to his word, continued to preach against alcohol until his death.


Evangelist Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday, born in 1862 and raised in Ames and Nevada, was a professional baseball player from 1883 to 1890 for Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.  During these years he underwent a religious conversion and began working with the YMCA.  In 1903 he became an ordained Presbyterian minister, and then used his baseball background, slangy language, flamboyant manners, and highly developed promotional methods to become the most popular evangelist of his time -- supposedly preaching to over 100 million people in his many tent revivals. (Farwell T. Brown Photographic Archive)

Billy Sunday website

Billy Sunday was born in a log cabin south of Ames.  In the picture on the right are (left to right) Billy Sunday, his aunt Rosetta Simmons (who was with Billy's mother at the time of his birth), and his older brother H. E. (Ed) Sunday. They are standing in front of log home which was Billy's birthplace. This structure, no longer in existence, stood near what was later to be Ames Municipal Airport.  The photo to the right is from William T. Ellis' book, Billy Sunday - the Man and His Message, published in 1914.   

Full page newspaper ad (from Billy Sunday—The Man and His Message)

Fred Fischer and Miss McLaren are shown singing at Billy Sunday's Great Mothers' Meeting in the late 1890s. The tabernacle in Marshalltown was built by local volunteers especially for Sunday's evangelism series. Series like this often lasted for several weeks. Local churches were asked to cooperate by combining their services with his. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of History)

This plaque designating Billy Sunday's birthplace and the Cory Family Cemetery was dedicated on May 31, 1992 by the Ames Historical Society (then known as Ames Heritage Association).


“I'm the sworn eternal, uncompromising enemy of the liquor traffic. I've drawn the sword in the defense of God, home, wife, children and native land and I will never sheath it until the undertaker pumps me full of embalming fluid, and if my wife is still alive I think I shall call her to my bedside, and say, 'Nell, when I'm dead, you send for the butcher and skin me and have my hide tanned and made into drum heads and hire men go up and down the line and beat those drums and say, 'My husband Billy Sunday still lives and gives the whiskey gang a run for it's money.'” —Billy Sunday

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“I tell you that the curse of God Almighty is on the saloon.” —Billy Sunday

“Whiskey and beer are all right in their place, but their place is in hell.” —Billy Sunday

“The man who votes for the saloon is pulling on the same rope with the devil,
whether he knows it or not.” —Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday (1862-1935)

Beer is for fools!!! 

Watch Billy Sunday preach! | Billy Sunday Sayings | More Sermons by Billy Sunday

Hear Billy Sunday's "Booze Kills!" | Hear Billy Sunday on Prohibition (MP3)

G.A.D.D -God Against Drunk Drivers | The Salvation of a Nation (by Pastor Jack Hyles)

We Can Have Revival Now (Evangelist John R. Rice)

Alcohol Kills!

“I want to preach the gospel so plainly that men can come
from the factories and not have to bring along a dictionary.”
—Billy Sunday

Ye Must Be Born Again!