Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 28—International Assemblies (1946-1950)
THE 1946 Cleveland assembly further set a pattern as to operating departments required for efficient mass congregating of Witnesses.a Needed was a volunteer service department, to register volunteer workers—willing to serve their brothers during convention time in whatever operating department an assignment was given them. On the first day of the 1946 convention 1,100 had been assigned to work. An engineering department was necessary to assure functioning of all mechanical equipment. An installation department of skilled craftsmen made all necessary temporary erections of cafeteria equipment, putting up of the platform, enlarging electrical and plumbing facilities, and similar preparations. A first-aid department, comprising doctors and nurses, took care of those who needed health attention. Other departments that functioned as parts of the great convention establishment were lost and found, transportation, attendants, publicity, information, public-address system, bookroom, convention orchestra and music, administration, chairman’s office (which supervised the program) and editorial. The editorial department published five convention reports containing pictures and comment on convention events during course of the assembly. For the eight-day assembly 650,000 copies of the Cleveland convention report known as “The Messenger” were printed.
Experiences, joys and spiritual uplift shared by scores of thousands at the 1946 “Glad Nations Theocratic Assembly” in Cleveland proved to be just a sample of what was to be in store for Jehovah’s people at the 1950 Yankee Stadium world assembly. It was called “‘Theocracy’s Increase’ Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” meeting in New York city July 30 to August 6, 1950. What a joyous eight-day theocratic festival it was—never to be forgotten by those who attended! The war having now ended by some five years, it was possible for ten thousand non-American witnesses from sixty-seven different countries to travel to New York for this truly world assembly. Hundreds came from war-torn Europe itself. Other hundreds came from Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Asia, too, was represented. Latin Americans came by the hundreds and many also from isles of the Pacific. Thousands came from Canada. All these world travelers journeyed in every conceivable way, by sea, by rail, by air. The influx of foreigners was so great in New York city for the days prior to the convention that the U.S. Immigration Service blundered, bringing certain discriminatory indignities upon visiting witnesses that later were vigorously protested by the convention. In spite of the difficulties 79,247 attended the opening day of this colossal gathering. The record-shattering number of 123,707 attended the last day at the public meeting to hear N. H. Knorr speak on “Can You Live Forever in Happiness on Earth?”
The convention organization, patterned on the Cleveland style, was set in motion months prior to the assembly. The rooming accommodations for 75,000 conventioners amounted to the greatest, most concentrated room-hunt ever held up to that time. A trailer city was established forty miles away from the stadium, in New Jersey. Here thousands of witnesses were accommodated in a well-organized, well-serviced, well-administered community of 15,000 inhabitants. When opening day arrived the entire convention machine, including all its member departments with a total staff running into the thousands of volunteer workers, went into high gear to assure a most successfully operated assembly within the limited and congested area of Yankee Stadium. The functioning of the convention proved to be such a modern spectacle from every angle that great publicity resulted in the national and international press, the radio and television. The Society’s radio station WBBR broadcast most of the sessions of the entire convention to a potential audience of millions.
The opening day, Sunday, July 30, was entitled “Gilead Graduation Day,” which signified the principal opening event. Nearly 80,000 heard the graduation proceedings in the afternoon when the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead graduated 120 students of its 15th class. The graduation address was entitled “The Way of Success,” as delivered by the school’s president, N. H. Knorr. At the opening session that morning the first surprise occurred, the release of a book of new, delightfully composed songs of praise. For the eight days thereafter the vast throng had fellowship in learning these new songs. On the Monday, “Jehovah’s Undeserved Kindness Day,” foreign-language sessions were held in the morning in various parts of Yankee Stadium and then general sessions in the afternoon and evening, giving reports by branch servants from various countries. The effective booklet Defending and Legally Establishing the Good News was released on this day. Tuesday, “Theocratic Devotion Day,” saw the release of the attractive new-size Watchtower magazine. Also on this day 84,950 enthusiastically adopted the stinging resolution against communism offered at the conclusion of the key address “The Increase of His Government.” The booklet Evolution versus The New World made its existence known at this time.
“‘Preach the Word’ Day,” Wednesday, August 2, proved to be one of historic moment when the Society’s president presented to an amazed and totally surprised audience the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures amid heightened expressions of enthusiasm and delight. The morning, afternoon and evening sessions of “Missionary Day,” Thursday, were devoted to hearing exciting reports from Gilead missionaries. Also on this day 3,381 were immersed. Friday was “Branch Day,” filled with news of world-wide theocratic expansion. “Knowledge of God Day” on Saturday was highlighted by the release in Spanish and English of the new book “This Means Everlasting Life”. On Sunday, “New World Living Day,” the climax, 123,707 came to hear the heart-stirring public talk “Can You Live Forever in Happiness on Earth?” Truly a spiritual feast of fat things was abundantly set before Jehovah’s witnesses at this till then grandest of assemblies.b
Before leaving the convention city the witnesses were invited to visit the beautiful new Bethel headquarters at 124 Columbia Heights and also the vastly expanded printing factory at 117 Adams Street in Brooklyn. For several days after the assembly thousands passed through to see all the points of interest at these two centers of theocratic activity. The new Bethel home had been dedicated January 30, 1950, and the new factory April 3 of the same year.c The full occupancy of these two modernly equipped buildings completed the vast expansion program approved so enthusiastically at the 1946 Cleveland assembly.
The new Bethel building is a well-designed ten-story brick structure with a three-story tower at its top, visible to all river and bridge traffic. Inside Bethel one finds a lovely lobby leading to elevators and also to a well-appointed lounge. Below there is a colorful Kingdom Hall with seating capacity of 500. Next below is the large dining hall, seating 450, and kitchens. The modernistic studios and Watchtower organ of radio station WBBR also are located in this building. On its eighth floor is a delightful library. The home also contains the offices of the Society’s president as well as the offices of its treasurer, the legal department and editorial rooms. In this building, too, are rooms sufficient to house 450 Bethel workers, together with laundry and other household-service departmental quarters.
The new factory building contains the general offices of the Society as the headquarters of the American branch. However, most of this other new building (completed in 1950) is devoted to printing operations on huge presses and other machines of latest design to facilitate efficient high-speed book, booklet and magazine production. The Watchtower and Awake! magazines are printed at and distributed from this plant. Here also is done printing of Bibles and many other publications of the Society.d
(To be continued)
a 1954 Yearbook, pp. 39-45.
b Report of Theocracy’s increase Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1950.
c 1951 Yearbook, pp. 33-35.
d Watchtower 1950, pp. 221-224.