Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Beginning as a preacher in Allegheny, Charles Taze Russell founded the sect that eventually became the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Charles Taze Russell, born February 16, 1852 in Allegheny, now a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is best known for his religious views. He expressed these views through journals, books, and lectures. Russell published the journal Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, among many other famous works. This journal is now considered to be the official journal of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Russell was the elected pastor of The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, which has become the present-day Jehovah's Witnesses. Russell died on October 31, 1916, in a train car in Pampa, Texas.
Charles Taze Russell was born on February 16, 1852, in Allegheny, now the North Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The second of five children, he was raised in a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian home by his extremely religious parents, Joseph Lytel and Ann Eliza Birney Russell. Growing up, his mother had always encouraged him to join the Christian ministry. However, in 1861, when Russell was only nine-years-old, his mother passed away. The Russells then lived in Philadelphia for some time, but eventually moved back to Pittsburgh, where his father trained Russell to work in his haberdashery, "The Old Quaker Shop."
Russell joined his father's business at age 11. He had studied with private tutors, in addition to his public schooling, but left school at the age of fourteen to work full time. By the time Russell was 15, his father was sending him to Philadelphia as his purchasing agent, and Russell soon after became his father's successful business partner, earning a considerable amount of money. As a child, Russell was a Presbyterian, the denomination chosen by his parents. However, in his early teens, he began to question eternal punishment and biblical authority. Thus, Russell joined the more liberal Congregationalist Church. After arguing with an acquaintance and being unable to defend both the Bible and Christianity, Russell began to question his faith altogether. He briefly left the church, until age 18, when he attended a presentation by the Adventist preacher Jonas Wendell. During this presentation, Wendell used the extensive calculations of William Miller to prove that the scriptures revealed Jesus Christ would return to Earth between 1873 and 1874.
Because Wendell used logic to prove this theory, Russell felt comfortable believing him. Thus, Russell's faith was restored in Christianity. In 1870, Russell and his friends formed a Bible study group in Pittsburgh to discuss the problems they had discovered in the Bible and the issues they had with Christianity. The study group was also joined by Adventist pastors George Storrs and George Stetson, who shaped some of Russell's early beliefs about immortality and resurrection. After extensively studying the Bible, Russell believed he had found errors, and thus achieved a better understanding of the Christian religion. Unfortunately, Jesus Christ did not appear as predicted between 1873 and 1874. This, however, did not disappoint Russell. He believed that Jesus Christ did not appear visibly, but that his invisible presence had come as scheduled.
Russell published his own book, The Object and Manner of the Lord's Return, which described this viewpoint. 59,000 copies of the book were distributed. While on a business trip to Philadelphia in 1876, Russell read a copy of the magazine Herald of the Morning, published in Rochester, New York, by Nelson H. Barbour, an independent Adventist preacher. The journal spoke of the same things that Russell had been discussing with his Bible study group. Russell met with Barbour and left the meeting convinced that the physical return of Jesus Christ would occur in April 1878. He immediately sold his five clothing stores worth $300,000 in order to devote the next two years preparing for the return of Jesus Christ. Russell used his money to publish Barbour's book Three Worlds or Plan of Redemption, which stated their idea that a 40-year harvest of souls had begun in 1874 with the invisible return of Jesus Christ. It would end in 1914 with the end of the Age of the Gentiles and the coming of God's Kingdom.
April of 1878 came and went without the return of Jesus Christ. Barbour could not get over his embarrassment and even renounced some of the views he and Russell had once shared. Russell eventually pulled his funding for Herald of the Morning and started his own journal, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, which he edited for the rest of his life. Six thousand copies of the first issue were circulated. Barbour started the magazine The Church of the Strangers, and continued to publish Herald of the Morning, both of which he used to criticize Russell's beliefs. Russell later wrote a small book titled Tabernacle Teachings in response to Barbour's criticisms. Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ'sPresence was renamed Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence from 1908 to 1930, and has been titled Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom since 1939. It is now considered to be the official journal of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
On March 13, 1879, Russell married Maria Frances Ackley. However, this marriage was not based on romantic love. It was a mutually agreed upon celibate partnership for the purpose of writing and preaching of Russell's beliefs. The marriage did not last, as in 1897, the Russells separated because of a disagreement about her role in the management of Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. In 1906, there was a divorce trial that Russell lost, and eventually appealed five times, losing each trial. Maria Russell died in St. Petersburg, Florida in August of 1938 from Hodgkin's disease. Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was formed in 1881 with the purpose of circulating tracts, papers, doctrinal essays, and Bibles. It was officially chartered in 1884 and grew from two hundred Pittsburgh members who annually elected Russell "Pastor," to congregations across the United States, Europe, Australia, and the world. The members of this society have been known as Russellites, Millennial Dawnists, Bible Students, and after 1931, Jehovah's Witnesses. Russell spent his own money publishing and distributing the first major publication of the society, Food for Thinking Christians, in 1881. This book gave an outline on subjects such as atonement, the resurrection, and free will, among other things.
By the time of his death, almost five million copies had been distributed. Later that year, Russell wrote and distributed Tabernacle and its Teachings and Tabernacle Shadows of the Better Sacrifices, which outline Russell's thoughts on aspects of religion. In 1886, after a financial set-back due to the immense amount of money spent printing and distributing his prior three publications, Russell was finally able to publish the first volume of a seven-volume set, originally titled Millennial Dawn, but renamed in 1904 as Studies in the Scriptures. These books contain detailed explanations of Russell's views on the Bible, mankind, sin, and the condition of Christianity, among other things. The first volume was originally titled The Plan of the Ages, but was later renamed The Divine Plan of the Ages. It was published worldwide in twenty languages and is one of the most widely distributed interpretations of the Bible.
By the time of his death, five million copies had been distributed. The Time is at Hand (1889), Thy Kingdom Come (1891), The Day of Vengeance, later renamed TheBattle of Armageddon (1897), The At-one-ment Between God and Men (1899), and The New Creation (1904) completes the series. Following Russell's death in 1916, the seventh volume of the series, The Finished Mystery, was published. It was written by two of Russell's former associates, Clayton J. Woodworth and George H. Fisher, and edited by Franklin Rutherford. During the time Russell was writing his series, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence was being widely distributed. Russell was then chosen to serve as spiritual leader by 2,000 congregations in the United States, Canada, Britain, and Europe.
In 1903, newspapers began to print sermons written by Russell. Eventually, the estimated readership was 15 million people in the United States alone. In 1909, while Russell was in the midst of his divorce trial, he moved the headquarters of the society from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Brooklyn, New York, where Russell was not as well known. The corporation was named the Peoples' Pulpit Association, but was later renamed the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, of New York, Incorporated, and is still under this name today. The International Bible Students Association was launched in 1914, with its headquarters in London. The intention of this organization was to spread Russell's beliefs overseas. In that same year, Russell created the motion picture, The Photo-Drama of Creation, a production which combines movies, pictures, and lectures. It is eight hours long and has been seen by eight million people.
Unfortunately for Russell, in 1914, the long-awaited end of the Age of the Gentiles did not happen, and Russell was forced to revise his writings. He then stated that World War I was confirmation of biblical prophecies and the return of Jesus Christ would happen in 1918. Russell was not unfamiliar with controversy. He had, in 1908, discovered a particular strain of wheat, which he called "Miracle Wheat."Russell believed it was an extremely productive strain and took it as a sign that paradise would soon be restored on earth. The seeds of wheat were sold at sixty dollars a bushel, when they were actually worth only a dollar a bushel. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a cartoon which ridiculed both Russell and Miracle Wheat. Russell sued the newspaper for $100,000 in damages, and lost. Russell also sponsored a "cancer cure," which turned out to be a paste of chloride and zinc, a harmful and deadly combination.
Finally, Russell, while in court for another issue, lied about being able to read Greek, when he did not even know the letters of the Greek alphabet. Russell spent his remaining years traveling the world and preaching. On his return from touring the western and the south-western United States, Russell died from complications related to diverticulitis on October 31, 1916. He was in a train car that was traveling through Pampa, Texas. Russell's last request was to die in a Roman toga, which was created using Pullman sheets. Russell never lived to see the long-awaited return of Jesus Christ. Joseph Franklin Rutherford became Russell's successor, and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society still exists today, although under the name coined by Rutherford, the Jehovah's Witnesses. It continued to use much of Russell's teachings, but also dismissed a portion of them as incorrect. A much smaller group, under the previously used name of Bible Students, continues to follow Russell's teachings and to publish his works.
The Object and Manner of the Lord's Return. Pittsburgh, PA: Office of Herald of the Morning, 1874.