Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 5—The Warning Work (1909-1914)
HISTORICALLY, the activity of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society from 1909 to 1914 must be viewed largely with respect to the warning work of proclaiming the fateful year 1914. For thirty-two years now since 1877 the Society’s zealous volunteer workers, as witnesses of Jehovah, had publicly set forth the chronological proof and the physical facts indicating that the “Gentile times” were due to end in the fall of 1914.a
During the two decades prior to 1914 explosive forces had been generating among the Gentile nations that had become dynamos of nationalism. Under an enlightened liberalism there might have been a period of great advancement for the general welfare by man’s harnessing and utilizing all the new inventions, by industrial build-ups, by scientific developments, and by acquired natural wealth usable for the common good. But, no, the Devil was at the helm of these ships of state. Instead, an armaments race had begun among the nations, each side striving to outdo the other for offsetting the balance of power. Old-world thinking, religious and political, was forced to adjust itself to this pattern of national rivalries. Truly the masses of mankind were being herded for a twentieth-century global debacle of nations. Amid such feverish Gentile madness these dedicated servants of Jehovah embarked upon their final, all-out warning work concerning 1914.
But to undertake an all-out campaign of world-wide proportions the Society’s twenty-year-old four-story “Bible House” headquarters in Allegheny (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, had become inadequate, besides being not strategically located for world shipping and communication. So in 1908 representatives of the Society, including its legal counselor, J. F. Rutherford,b were sent to Brooklyn, New York, to negotiate the purchase of more desirable quarters. Those quarters Russell himself had found on an earlier trip to New York. They bought the old “Plymouth Bethel,” a mission structure completed in 1868 for nearby Plymouth Congregational Church. This mission, at 13-17 Hicks Street, Brooklyn, had long been used in connection with Plymouth Church (built in 1849 on Orange Street, near Hicks) where about half a century earlier antislavery sermons were preached by the noted Brooklyn clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher.c They also purchased the old Beecher residence at 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, where other notables, even Abraham Lincoln, are said to have conferred with Beecher in the 1860’s. On January 31, 1909, some 350 attended the dedication of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, the new name for the now-renovated former “Plymouth Bethel.” Its second-floor auditorium, seating 800, gleamed in soft color, olive green prevailing, with tastefully artistic Bible-text wall decorations. The street floor was altered to be the Society’s headquarters operating office. The large basement floor had been turned into a small printery, stock and shipping departments. Soon, too, the home at 124 Columbia Heights had been readied for occupancy by more than thirty full-time members of the headquarters staff. “The new home we shall call ‘Bethel,’ and the new office and auditorium, ‘The Brooklyn Tabernacle’; these names will supplant the term ‘Bible House.’”d By 1911 a spacious new dormitory addition had been completed, adjoining the rear of Bethel and fronting on Furman Street, further enlarging the facilities.e
To hold this new property in New York state and to do business as a recognized religious body within this state it was necessary to form a New York corporation. Such corporation came into legal existence February 23, 1909, as decreed by New York Supreme Court Justice Isaac N. Miller. PEOPLES PULPIT ASSOCIATION was its name for thirty years. Then in 1939 that was legally changed to its present name, WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY, INC., similar to that of the Pennsylvania corporation, WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY. The New York corporation’s purposes its charter sums up as follows:
“Its corporate purposes are, Charitable, benevolent, scientific, historical, literary and religious purposes; the moral and mental improvement of men and women, the dissemination of Bible truths in various languages by means of the publication of tracts, pamphlets, papers and other religious documents, and for religious missionary work.”f
From 1909 onward a monthly tract—first called “Peoples Pulpit,” then “Everybody’s Paper,” and still later, “The Bible Students Monthly”—was widely distributed annually in millions of copies, clearly explaining vital Bible truths and warning the Gentile nations of the fateful year 1914. And so during several years these earnest united workers became more and more widely known as Bible Students, or International Bible Students. In fact, in 1914 the identical work in the British field was legally established under law of Great Britain, being incorporated under the name INTERNATIONAL BIBLE STUDENTS ASSOCIATION. All three of these corporations were organized for identical purposes and they harmoniously work together.g
The Watch Tower Society now in its Brooklyn headquarters had become equipped to keep abreast with the continually expanding gigantic publishing work then under way. The years from 1909 to 1914 saw an ever-increasing output of tracts, pamphlets and bound books running into many millions. The 1914 warning work was augmented by the organizing of an international newspaper syndicate service that sent Russell’s sermon for each week to approximately three thousand newspapers in the United States, Canada and Europe. Ten million people were reached each week in this manner, it was estimated.h
The public platform also was geared to this expanding witness about the nearing year 1914. In 1911 alone, as officially reported, 12,113 public and semipublic lectures had been given all over the world. Fifty-eight special traveling ministers were regularly sent on assigned routes from the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters to serve in this public-speaking campaign, in which also many hundreds of local resident speakers carried on the “Class Extension Work,” endeavoring to organize new Bible classes.i Much growth resulted. Finally by 1914 there were 1,200 congregations or classes operating in union with the Watch Tower Society at home and abroad. For 1915 the partial number reported as attenders of the annual Memorial celebration of Christ’s death was 15,430, and by this time there were 55,000 Watch Tower subscribers, thus indicating the approximate number associated in the warning and witness work.j
In this period of witness the demand for personal appearances of the Society’s president, C. T. Russell, to address public gatherings in large centers, also was exceedingly insistent. To Europe he went every year for speaking engagements; and in North America he traveled extensively on “convention tour” special trains, accompanied by scores (once 240) of eager fellow workers, visiting all large cities in the United States and Canada.k Thus he personally addressed thousands in many parts of the English-speaking world.l From December, 1911, to March, 1912, Russell, as chairman of a committee of seven men, made a round-the-world tour, spreading seeds of truth that in time brought into fruitful action additional groups of anointed Christians in far-flung areas of the globe. For local lectures and for study of foreign missions the committee called at the following places: Honolulu, Hawaii; Yokohama, Tokyo, Kobe and Nagasaki, Japan; Shanghai and Hong Kong, China; Manila, Philippine Islands; Singapore and Penang, Straits Settlements; Colombo, Ceylon; Trivandrum, Kottarakara, Nagercoil, Puram, Madras, Vizagapatam, Calcutta, Benares, Lucknow and Bombay, India; Aden, Arabia; Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt; Piraeus, Athens, Corinth and Patras, Greece; Brindisi and Rome, Italy; Paris, France; and then London, England, and finally New York.a Truly an extensive journey to gird the earth with the warning message of the approaching end of “Gentile times” in 1914. Before Russell’s death in 1916 (October 31) it is said that he traveled more than a million miles, preached more than 30,000 sermons, and wrote books totaling over 50,000 pages.b By this time the Society’s publications were appearing in 15 languages.c
To offset any private wild speculations as to 1914 the Watch Tower of December 1, 1912, published the following:
“There surely is room for slight differences of opinion on this subject and it behooves us to grant each other the widest latitude. The lease of power to the Gentiles may end in October, 1914, or in October, 1915. And the period of intense strife and anarchy ‘such as never was since there was a nation’ may be the final ending of the Gentile Times or the beginning of Messiah’s reign. But we remind all of our readers again, that we have not prophesied anything about the Times of the Gentiles closing in a time of trouble nor about the glorious epoch which will shortly follow that catastrophe. we have merely pointed out what the Scriptures say, giving our views respecting their meaning and asking our readers to judge, each for himself, what they signify. These prophecies still read the same to us. . . . However some may make positive statements of what they know, and of what they do not know, we never indulge in this; but we merely state that we believe thus and so, for such and such reasons.”d
To demonstrate further that these united students and workers did not believe the prophetic year of 1914 would end all their operations with respect to this earth, from 1912 to the beginning of 1914 the Watch Tower Society spent a fortune (over $300,000)e in preparing the Photo-Drama of Creation, to spread Bible knowledge to the masses of people during and after 1914. Although use of recorded talks and music synchronized with projected (moving and still) pictures was an art then in infancy, nevertheless the Society boldly proceeded to pioneer this field. In primitive studios in New York it produced a combined movie-film and picture-slide show of rare beauty, synchronized with which was a large variety of choicest musical recordings and 96 phonograph-record talks (each 4 minutes long) explaining the principal features of the Bible. Describing it, the Watch Tower of 1914 said:
“Naturally our readers are deeply interested in the Photo-Drama of Creation. All of you have heard more or less concerning its preparation during the past two years. The work has been much more tedious than we expected. All who have seen it concede that it is very beautiful. A minister, after seeing two parts, said, ‘I have seen only one-half of the DRAMA, but already have learned from it more about the Bible than I learned in my three years’ course in the theological seminary.’ . . . It [the DRAMA] includes everything appertaining to the creation of earth—animals, man, the experiences of mankind for the past six thousand years and the work of the thousand years of Messiah’s kingdom. It divides these into four parts—four Entertainments [of two hours each] with appropriate music, etc. Part I carries us from star nebula to the creation of the world and down to the Deluge—down to Abraham’s time. Part II reaches from Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, wilderness experiences, etc., down through the periods of the Kings to the time of Elisha, the Prophet. Part III continues the story from Daniel’s time down to the time when the Logos was made flesh at the birth of Jesus, his boyhood, manhood, baptism, ministry, miracles, crucifixion, death, resurrection. Part IV begins at Pentecost and traces the experiences of the Church, during the past nineteen centuries to our day and beyond for a thousand years to the glorious consummation.”f
Many complete and abridged sets of this colorful sound-drama were produced, trained traveling supervisors and operators taking it to millions of people in free showings at the largest auditoriums and picture places of North America, Europe and Australia. This new medium for Bible education was ready in time to be shipped to Germany and other foreign countries where showings during the first world war brought comfort to multitudes of bewildered peoples.g A truly great witness was given in this manner. Incidentally, the Supreme Court of Idaho granted the Society a victory over opposers who objected to Sunday showings of this Photo-Drama.h
(To be continued)
And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.—Prov. 24:4, 5.
[Picture on page 141]
a Watch Tower, October-November 1881, page 3.
b W 1919, p. 58.
c Webster’s Biographical Dictionary, p. 125; History of Kings County (1884, Mundell & Co., New York), pp. 1021, 1022.
d W 1909, pp. 67, 68.
e W 1917, p. 53.
f Charter, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Inc., pp. 1, 5, 6, 11.
g See “The History and Operations of Our Society,” W 1917, pp. 327-330; W 1914, p. 371.
h Pastor Russell’s Sermons, by I. B. S. A., 1917, pp. 3, 4; W 1909, p. 269; W 1916, p. 388; W 1912, p. 26.
i W 1911, pp. 453, 454.
j W 1915, pp. 127, 372.
k W 1909, pp. 183, 196, 259, 298.
l W 1913, p. 218.
a W 1911, p. 434 complete report with pictures in W 1912, pages 123-138, and in Souvenir Notes 1912, pages 7-387.
b Pittsburgh (Pa.) Press, August 23, 1953, magazine section, p. 6.
c W 1912, p. 286.
d W 1912, p. 377.
e W 1914, p. 375.
f W 1914, pp. 105, 106.
g W 1914, p. 142.
h State v. Morris (February 23, 1916), 28 Idaho 599; 155 P. 296.