The YMCA was founded in London, England, in 1844 in response to unhealthy social conditions arising in big cities at the end of the Industrial Revolution. Growth of railroads and centralization of industry and commerce brought many rural young men who needed jobs into cities like London.
George Williams was one of these young men. He was born on a farm and moved to London 20 years later to work at a draper's shop, a forerunner of today's department store. He and a group of fellow drapers organized the first YMCA to substitute Bible study and prayer for life on the streets. The Y has always been nonsectarian and accepts all faiths.
The YMCA idea spread rapidly. In 1851, the first YMCA in this country was started in Boston. Two years later the St. Louis YMCA was founded in the Second Baptist Church, as noted by the Missouri Republic on October 20, 1853, "It is our privilege to record the beginnings of an enterprise, which contains in it the germs of more good to St. Louis than any undertaking which has ever been entered upon here."