HISTORY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES Tommy Bucher
(who was teaching Pioneer School at my old cong. in Iowa and gave this talk to the congregation.)
We’re going to back through a little history, discuss a few little tidbits of what’s happened to Jehovah’s organization in the last hundred or so years. And, as we do, you can make up your own mind…you can draw your own conclusion…as to whether Jehovah has been with his people, has been caring for things or if it was just a bunch of chance, circumstantial happenings.
First of all we have the question: Why was the United States the location of the governing body of the organization of God’s people in recent years? Well, let’s stop and think for a moment, what are the choices? It could perhaps have been Great Britain, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East. These are places that featured prominently with God’s people in times past. But why here? Well, for almost 200 years, from 1586-1776, in this continent there were no wars. And since that time, aside from a few skirmishes over property rights and such, there have been only three in this continent. Can you say that for England, or Great Britain, or Europe or North Africa or the Middle East? Obviously not. Jehovah apparently could see here in this continent, the northern American continent in the western hemisphere, a place where there was a government that would be tolerant, that would allow certain religious freedoms to exist and would provide a safe haven, safe home base as it were, for the Christian congregation to flourish in these years and, of course, it has done just exactly that.
Although during this history of our organization, we have had some difficulties in this area. For instance in 1918, June of 1918, the principle figures..the seven directors of the Watchtower Society were arrested along with their Italian translator, Giovanni DeCecca. They were arrested , they were sentenced to 80-year prison sentences. DeCecca was sentenced to 40 years in prison. They were confined to Atlanta Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia because of trumped up charges brought by the religious leaders who didn’t like the message that Jehovah’s people were giving and they swayed the courts to uphold that so they were sentenced to these 80-year prison terms in Federal penitentiary. Now while the brothers were in the penitentiary serving 80-year sentences, working against a very prejudiced court system, they were sitting there in prison and they decided that if they ever got out they were going to do their own printing. That might seem a little farfetched. Here they were serving 80-year prison sentences and yet they’re already making decisions of what they’re going to do 80 years from now when they got out. They were all in their 40s and 50s by that time so obviously they must have had pretty strong faith it was going to happen soon…and it did. Within nine months they were released from prison. They were not paroled. They were not pardoned. They were exonerated for the crime. They said you did not commit a crime in the first place and so they were released and sent back. So they did get out of prison.
But now the interesting thing, while they were in that prison the decision had been made that they were going to do their own printing. And one of the brothers, Robert Barton, made the observation as to why they had to do their own printing. He said because if it was left up to somebody else to do their printing for them, which they had been doing up until that time, they just contracted it out to print shops to do the printing work for them, he said if they depended on other people to do the printing the work could be scuttled by those printers or their paper suppliers. So they didn’t want to have that around their neck so they said, “We’re going to do our own printing when we get out of here.” And Br. VanAmburgh, Br. Rutherford, Br. Macmillan, principles of the….they some of the directors of the Watchtower Society….they got together and they decided what they were going to get done. By the way, Br. Macmillan was very active in World War II visiting all the prisons where Jehovah’s people were incarcerated because of their neutrality. Since he had been in prison himself during that 1st war, he wanted to show compassion to those brothers who were in prison during the 2nd world war and that he did. And if you weren’t aware of the fact, Br. Macmillan’s home base was out of Dubuque quite a bit of the time. If you know David Heissy (sp?) and his sister, Charlotte Robinson, they can tell you stories of when Br. And Sr. Macmillan stayed in their home when they were children, when those two were very small children.
But getting back to this matter, Br. Woodworth and Br. Wise, while they were in prison, were in agreement with getting this work done, getting the printery accomplished and Br. Rutherford, when they got out of prison, found that the brothers had closed down the Watchtower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn and moved it back to what they called the Bible House, which was a 5-story brick building there in Allegheny, Pennslyvania. They had moved it back to Allegheny, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Then the 124 Columbia Heights building was like empty. Br. Rutherford was , ah, well he didn’t know whether they should go back to Brooklyn or stay in Pittsburgh. So he gave Br. Wise a challenge. He says, “I want you to go to Brooklyn and I want you to find out is it God’s will that we move back to Brooklyn or should we stay where we are.” And I’m not going to tell you the story…you’ve got to read it for yourself in the Proclaimers Book on page 577. The other stories that I’m relating to you today, most of them are not in the Proclaimers Book so that would be redundant for me to tell you what’s already in the book but you can find out the test that they tried to find out if it was Jehovah’s will that they move back. And obviously it was because they’ve been there ever since, they’ve been operating there in Brooklyn all that while.
Now Br. C. A. Wise was one of the directors of the Society at that time. After they got to Brooklyn, Brother Rutherford told him to find a place to set up a printery. If we’re going to do our own printing, we’ve got to have a place to do it. So they searched around and found three stories of a building..it was about an eight-story brick building..over on Myrtle Street which is a few blocks away from our Columbia Heights offices. And he found the bottom three floors of this building over on Myrtle Street which they leased and they put up their printery there. They got a large rotary press and they started printing The Golden Age there on those presses in 1920, February 1st issue, printed four million copies of that on their rotary press. They also bought six linotype machines. If you don’t know linotype, it’s a big apparatus just like a huge typewriter. It’s about 6’ high, about 3 ½’ wide, about 7’ long, got a keyboard like a typewriter, and it puts together the type that turns into the blanks that they use to make the press plates out of. Well, they had six of those machines, but they didn’t have anybody who knew anything about linotype. They knew typewriting but they didn’t know linotype and there’s a big difference.
Now I’m going to leave the brothers hanging there in Brooklyn and we’re going to travel out here to the Midwest. We’re going to go to Minnesota. About the same time period there’s a young boy, he was an orphan, he was in an orphanage and was very, very mistreated. As you can imagine back in those years there was a lot of that going on, orphans were mistreated and in a lot of orphanages, they were almost slave labor. So this young boy ran away. He left the orphanage. Now he’s got to provide for himself so he got a job at the St. Paul Free Press, the newspaper, and they just had him cleaning up around the linotype machines. But he didn’t clean up very long. After a short time he was in the saddle of the linotype machines, running the things and he became an ace linotype operator. At about the same time, he was called on by, as they called them then, the Bible Students…Jehovah’s Witnesses. He came into the truth almost immediately. And then he found out about the plight of the brothers back in Brooklyn needing somebody to linotype. So he volunteered and he went back and he became the #1 linotype man in the world. The linotype company, if they had a problem with linotype machines anywhere in the world, they would call Brooklyn Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses and they said, “We got to talk to Pete Peterson” because he knew linotype. In fact, Brother Peterson owned patents that the linotype company used and they had to pay royalty back to the Watchtower Society in order to use those patents that he invented. He was quite a man, quite a mechanic. He saw linotype come in and he saw linotype go out because in the late 60s and early 70s the brothers in New York recognized that that whole system of lead, nickel-plated plates, linotype, was becoming a thing of the past because they called that letter press type and they said that was going out. They had to be replaced by what we call offset presses. But there was a big problem with offset press work. You can do small offset work manually. But to do the volume of printing that the Watchtower Society has to do, the billions and billions of copies of books and magazines a year, it has got to be done with the computer.
Now the problem was we did not have anybody at Bethel who knew anything about computers until Ralph Brander (sp?), an executive with IBM retired. He’s a brother, an elder. He retired from IBM and volunteered, was accepted at Bethel. They put him up at Wallkill and he and Curtis Willeford (sp?) put together the Society’s first computer department at Wallkill, at Watchtower Farms. And they started working with their computers up there but still there were a lot of glitches in the system that they had to work out.
Now, we’re going to leave them with their problems and scratching their heads in Wallkill and take another trip. We’re going to go to Japan. And here we are in Japan and this is again the late 60s, early 70s. The Japanese computer manufacturers were trying to get a leg up on IBM and Compaq, the United States computer giants. They were trying to find some way to get past them. Well, the Japanese do something that is really strange….they cooperate. So the Japanese computer companies send representatives of each company…they put their #1 brains into a think tank in Japan to try to come up with a way to get past the U.S. And they did, by the way. If you use dynamic ram on your computer, that’s a process of that think tank. But while they were there trying to come up with that, one of those computer geniuses was called on by a pioneer sister, door-to-door. She called on him and witnessed to him and while she was talking to this man…inadvertently the words just kind of fell out of her face and she said, “You know, of course, the Gentile Times ended in 1914.” And he said, “Uh, excuse me? Explain that.” And she’s thinking Oh, Lord, what have I done? But she did. She started off, you know, with Daniel and Ezekiel, a day for a year and Deuteronomy and 2520 and 607 and put it all together..1914. Now the man said, “My.” And about that time his wife came up the stairs and she said, “What’s this?” And he said to the sister, “Excuse me,” and turns to his wife and explains to her the whole thing…Daniel, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, 607, 2520, 1914. And the sister is wondering..what have I got? And that man and his wife came into the truth almost immediately. I mean, they took to it like a duck to water. And here they are now in the truth and, of course, he’s every day with these other geniuses talking about computers and God’s kingdom. And now most of the top computer minds in Japan are your brothers and sisters. After they got this problem solved, got the computer companies going in the direction they wanted to go, most of those brothers and sisters took immediate leaves of absences from their companies and they flew to New York, went to Wallkill. And they have put together what they call the Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System. You know it by its acronym “MEPS”. And that came from a door-to-door call in Japan.
Now, do you think it was a coincidence that Pete Peterson learned the truth while he was serving as a linotype operator in St. Paul? Do you think it was just a coincidence that those computer people in Japan were called on by that pioneer sister? Do you think it’s a coincidence that Ralph Brander, retired IBM executive, went to Wallkill? Well, make up your own mind. I’ve got my decision made and you can choose for yourself which way you think it was.
By the way, the computer department that we have at Brooklyn now has the capability of printing literally hundreds of volumes of our info in a tiny little notebook computer. And they can put the works of hundreds of volumes of our literature into those things and they can now use those to get our literature into countries where our work is banned. In fact, they had an experience that came out of the computer department a couple years ago where the 486DX was all the rage at that time, the computer. And one of the brothers had one of those 486s and he was going into a banned country with this thing going with his luggage in through Customs, of course. Now the Customs man saw it and he said, “Open that.” The brother thought, oh-oh, I’ve had it now. So he opened that 486 computer, notebook computer, and the man looked at it, slammed it shut and said, “Etch-A-Sketch, huh,” and he pushed on inside. And he just sent hundreds of volumes of our literature into a country where the work was going on under ban. That’s because they didn’t have rocket scientists on the duty desk there in that country. But it’s just remarkable to see how Jehovah had this whole thing very, very well in hand.
Now we’re gonna go to the other side of the Atlantic for a little while. We want to go over to Great Britain, 1955. We had outgrown the property we had been using for a branch offices there in England. They had to find another place to build another branch office, something bigger. So up on what’s called Bethany (sp?) Hill, which is up on a road that’s called The Ridgeway. It’s in what the British call a Green Belt area. Now a Green Belt is an area where every tree in that area is historic and it’s registered with the British Home Office in London. You cannot prune a tree without permission from the Home Office, cut a twig off those trees up there, they’re that historical in that little garden. But it’s right in that area, northwestern London, where we’ve got property to build our branch on. They call it Watchtower House, everything in Britain is a house no matter how big it is. And so they’re building White House there on the Ridgeway. Now they’ve got to connect the sewer system of the Watchtower building to the line sewer that’s on the other side of the Ridgeway, the road that runs through there. And the British are a strange bunch, too, you know. In the United States we build a brand new beautiful highway, then we dig it up, put in the sewers, patch the road…see. The British say you can’t do that. If you’re going to put a sewer in you have to leave the road intact. Don’t mess it up, just tunnel under it, which I guess, makes for smoother roads. Maybe we should take a lesson, who knows? But anyway, here’s these brothers tunneling under this street trying to reach the sewer system. Twenty-five feet under ground, they’re digging along trying to reach it when they ran right into the massive root system of one of those registered trees. Now they’ve got to go to the left or the right. But they cannot go straight ahead. The brother in charge of the project said, “Our God always goes to the right. So that’s the way we’re going to go.” So they went to the right of the root system and they ran right into the sewer line just a few feet ahead. And right there where they dug into the sewer was a coupling, a sewer coupling. Problem. That coupling did not exist on any map of the sewer system of the City of London. How did it get there? Was it an accident? A coincidence? Well, you’ll recall that when Hezekiah built his tunnel, they started at both ends and met in the middle without transit ?? and such that we use today. Was it divine intervention or an accident? Well, you make up your own mind about that.
Back in the states again, 1927. Remember that little factory building that they rented, that three stories of a building they rented on Myrtle Street? They outgrew that thing in no time at all. That was in 1920, 1921. By 1927 we needed our own building. It had grown that much that fast. So the brothers found what they thought would be a perfect piece of ground. It’s right at the north end of Columbia Heights Blvd. There in the Heights section of Brooklyn and that’s where they wanted to build the factory. But the property we were looking at, we were outbid by a big pharmaceutical company and the brothers were just absolutely ill because they couldn’t have that perfect…I mean, it’s right on the East River. It was right where they could get right off the Brooklyn Bridge and have the property right there. They could ship out of there so easy but we couldn’t build there so they had to get another piece of property over on the corner of Adams and Sand, on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. And that’s where our factory is today, 117 Adams Street. But when that pharmaceutical company tried to build on that property, they found out there was nothing under the grass but solid mud ninety feet down. So they had to put in 1,100 pilings and then fill the entire thing with concrete so they’d have a foundation to build their building on in the first place. If we had had to try it, we would have gone broke just putting in the foundation let alone the building itself. Fifty years later they moved out and we moved in and got the most beautiful facilities at 25 Columbia Heights that you can imagine. We have to remember who’s running this operation, who’s controlling things, who’s pulling the strings to get things accomplished here. Well, after all, Jehovah is the Universal Sovereign.
Another little bit of interesting history where Jehovah’s hand is a little more obvious to me at least is in 1911, 1912 Br. Russell made an around the world trip to check out where he should try to get the work going first. What countries would be conducive to the preaching work. He landed in Manila, Philippines in 1911 and wanted to do what he always did. He would rent the biggest auditorium in the city to give a lecture. So he rented the Grand Opera House in Manila. That was where he was going to give his lecture. But the Ministerial Alliance in Manila found out about it and they put pressure on the people who operated the Opera House to try to cancel the contract. So here’s Br. Russell about to have his contract pulled. Now what to do.
Well, here again we’re going to do what we’ve done a couple of times. We’re going to leave him hanging there in Manila and we’re going to come back to the United States and we’re going to go back in history to 1866 when at West Point, New York, a young graduate of West Point Military Academy came out of West Point…Second Lieutenant William N. Hall. William N. Hall was assigned to the 7th Calvary in the Dakota Territory under the command of George Armstrong Custer. Custer, of course, you know was a loose cannon in the Army. He would go off in a direction and William N. Hall was one of those men who went strictly by the military book. If it wasn’t in the book you don’t do it and he was a thorn in the side for Colonel Custer. Colonel Custer, knowing he was going to disobey orders by engaging Sitting Bull, Dull Knife, Yellow Cloud, ah, or, Red Cloud and all these Indians out there in the Dakota Territory of Montana, Wyoming, he got this young Lieutenant out of his face, or you could say out of his hair I guess would be a more appropriate term for Custer, and he sent him off on a stupid nonsense mission just to like, you know, count the sagebrush in the valley or whatever. So Hall was gone when the battle of Little Big Horn occurred. So he is not a survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn but he is a survivor of the 7th Calvary. And he went on going by the book. He became Brigadier General William N. Hall. He was decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Spanish-American War under the command of Teddy Roosevelt. But what does that have to do with the truth? Well, after he retired from the military, he was contacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses..by the Bible Students. He read a couple of books from the Bible Students and he said, “This is for me.” He became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and he became a very close associate of Br. Russell. In fact, when Br. Russell took his 1911-12 around the world tour, Br. Hall went with him. And when they were in the Philippines and they were having this problem with the Ministerial Alliance of the Philippines over the rental of the Opera House, Br. Hall was there. Now you have to remember in 1911 the Philippines were under a U.S. Military governor because this is after the Spanish-American War and the Philippines had gone from Spanish control to become independent but is still being protected by the U.S. Military at the time. So the governor of the Philippines was J. Franklin Bell, Major General J. Franklin Bell, who had been a classmate of Brigadier General William N. Hall in West Point. So he goes to see his school chum and he says, “General, there is a very prominent, world-renown Bible lecturer who’s going to be speaking at the Manila Opera House and he would be very pleased, sir, if you would serve as his chairman.” And he said, “If he’s a friend of yours, General, he’s a friend of mine.” And so there he was, braids and ribbons and all this regalia, out before Mr. And Mrs. Moneybags in Manila, and he is the chairman. And there is no way in the world the preachers could stop him then. In fact, those cowards didn’t even have the nerve enough to show up. Now, you tell me, how is that William N. Hall is the only surviving member of the 7th Calvary who didn’t die at Little Big Horn? Was that a coincidence? Or was somebody saying here is a man who will be useful to me in the future. You decide.
By the way, Br. Hall…I said he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He didn’t….it wasn’t conferred to him until after he had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Congressional Medal of Honor by law must be conferred by the president of the United States. So President Theodore Roosevelt pinned the medal on William N. Hall personally and, of course, when they had their conversation you can rest assured that Teddy Roosevelt knew quite a bit about God’s kingdom because Br. Hall was a great door-to-door man. He trained another brother, Br. Anton Koerber, K-O-E-R-B-E-R. I recommend that you look up that name in the Proclaimers Book (page 640) and also in the Life Stories in the Index. You’ll find a little bit about him. The man could have been a multimillionaire if he’d only wanted to. But he turned down the offer to make millions of dollars. Now one year..he was given a trial project..you go to work for us one year, 365 days, and you’ll walk off with a million dollars in the bank. And he said, “Well, I don’t know. I’m afraid what that would do to my family spiritually.” And he turned it down, a million dollars a year, he says no because the kingdom of God is too important to him, his family is too important to him. That’s quite a, well, his story is in the May 15, 1968 Watchtower if you want to look it up. Br. Koerber wound up witnessing to kings, politicians, governors, presidents and ambassadors from all over the world. Quite a story of that man.
Now we have a little bit on how we got our work going legally in this country because, for a while, there was a question of whether we were going to be able to go door-to-door without a license, whether we had to become recognized as to buying a permit to do this preaching work and so forth. We started getting our cases in the courts back in the 30s and the brothers at Bethel recognized real soon that you can tie up a lot of time and a lot of money in the lower courts. So they said as quickly as you can, push it to get it to the highest courts we can get it into, federal courts, appeals courts, even the Supreme Court. We had 14 cases that went to the Supreme Court and one of those cases was in 19…..I thought I had a year written down….well, guess not. It was in the late 30s at any rate. Charles Evans Hughes was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at that time and, by the way, Justice Hughes hated Jehovah’s Witnesses with a fervor. He was the one when in 1919, when they were let out of prison, said he wished they all could be put in prison, all of them, not just the directors. He hated the Witnesses. And when this court, this case to determine whether we had the right to go door-to-door without a license was before the Supreme Court, there was Charles Evans Hughes who blatantly said to the witness contingent there in the courtroom, “You have no right to go door-to-door without a license.” And our young lawyer, a Texan by the way, Haydon C. Covington, jumped to his feet and pointed at Justice Hughes and says, “We have every right to do it and we’re going to do.” Scared the liver out of that man and won the case. Jehovah said to Jeremiah at Jeremiah 1:17-19, don’t be fearful because of their faces because I’ll make you like an iron tower, a copper tower. So that’s exactly what happened to Jehovah’s people.
Later though we lost a very important case. On June 3rd, 1940 we lost the case involving the flag salute issue. We lost it
8-1. There are nine justices on the Supreme Court and one voted in our favor. That was Harlan Stone, the only one on the court who was in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Right after that Charles Evans Hughes died as Chief Justice and had to be replaced. Who was the replacement? Harlan Stone. Was that a coincidence? That the only one that was in our favor on the flag case is the one who became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? Well, there’s other things that happened at the same time. Two other justices retired from the court. So they had to be replaced, so that puts three more justices on the court. Now they had to get more justices. One of those who was going to the Supreme Court was Frank Murphy, who had been governor of Michigan. When Governor Murphy was sitting in office, he had his portrait painted. All the Michigan governors have their portrait painted and then hung in the capitol building. There’s a really well-known portraitist in Michigan. His name is Roy Gamble. He was your brother and he painted the portrait of Frank Murphy. So he had this governor for days…he poses…he can’t move. So what did Br. Gamble do for days when he had this governor there? Of course, he filled his ears. And, of course, after that portrait was painted and Murphy was then elected to the Supreme Court by the president and the Senate, he told Br. Gamble, he said, “If that flag case ever comes up before the court again, you’ve got my vote.” And it did three years later in 1943, Flag Day. The case was heard by the Supreme Court and we won that one 6-3. And every case after that was 6-3 in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Was that a coincidence that those justices that were put on the court were favorable to God’s kingdom? Or was somebody pulling a few strings in the background? Well, you decide.
Jehovah’s people have pioneered a lot of things. We’ve seen a lot of things that have happened down through the years. And, in my mind, seeing all these things and more that have happened and we’ve only had a half hour to talk about these…I could have, you’ve got a couple brothers in the congregation that heard a few of these things yesterday, things I couldn’t put in the talk today because our time wouldn’t allow it…but I recommend that you pick their brains and find out what they found out yesterday while we were together.
But it tells me something that is very, very profound. Jehovah God is not some nebulous benefactor somewhere. He is our father who loves us dearly and he takes care of us. He manipulates things, he maneuvers things, so his will is done. And if you doubt it, you haven’t been listening to this. And if you don’t think Jehovah is in control, you know I mentioned that bridge in New York that’s between the factory and the offices…I own that and it’s for sale. So if you want to buy it, I’ll sell it to you at a real good price. Honestly, though, we know that Jehovah is with his people. It’s been proved time and again and we can rest assured that he will continue to be. It’s been a wonderful three years for Sr. Buttcher and me to be here. We appreciate very much the love you’ve shown us, the chance to work with you and it’s not over. We’ve got a few billion years. We’ll be able to sit down and have lemonade together sometime. In the meantime, well, we’ll see you again. Don’t know when, but we will. Been a good week. Thank you.