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The Beginnings

The Watch Tower Society began in 1870, when Charles Taze Russel formed a Bible study which relied heavily on the writings of George Stetson and George Storrs (a Second Adventist preacher and former Millerite). Based on his studies, Russel believed that in 1874 Christ returned invisibly, and that the year 1914 would bring about the end of the world. In July of 1879, Russel began publishing the magazine "Zion's Watch Tower and the Herald of Christ's Presence," focusing mostly on his interpretations of biblical chronology. Along with the magazine, Russel authored vast amounts of literature, including a series entitled "Studies in the Scripture." Russel believed that no one could understand the Bible without these studies, and that reading the Bible alone would only lead to spiritual darkness.

Russel also believed that Egypt's Great Pyramid was designed, and placed by God as His second witness, next to the Bible. And that the Great Pyramid would be used as an instrument by God to reveil His plans for mankind. Russel used the Great Pyramid in his prophecies, claiming that the measurement of its passage ways verified the 1914 end of the world prediction.

In 1881, Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was formed, and Russel became President of the organization when it legally incorporated in 1884. Then in 1914, after the end of the world did not occur, Russel revised his calculations, stating that the world would end in 1915. In 1915, he again revised this calculation, stating the world would actually end in 1918.

In 1916, Charles Taze Russel passed away; his grave marked by a massive pyramid.

The Turmoil Begins

After tha passing of Russel, Joseph Rutherford took over as President of the organization. Immediately, a power struggle ensued between Rutherford and members of the Society's Board of Directors. In July, just six months after his election, Rutherford removed four of the directors on the claim that they had not been properly elected.

Rutherford then announce the release of "The Finished Mystery" as the seventh volume of "Studies in the Scriptures," a book that was widely advertised as a publication from the late Charles Russel, but actually written by two other "Bible Students" under the supervision of Joseph Rutherford. The book, which strongly condemned Protestant and Catholic involvement in the war, resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of Rutherford and the new board of directors by the US Government for a violating the Espionage Act. While imprisoned, elections for the Watch Tower directors again took place, and Rutherford was re-elected as president. In March 1919, the US Government reversed the judgement against Rutherford and the board members, releasing them from prison, and later dropping the charges completely. However, opposition to Rutherford, and the Watch Tower organization started growing substantially, causing a significant number of members to cut ties with the Watch Tower Society and form new organizations.

Despite great opposition, Rutherford continued to tighten and centralize the organization's control of those who remained loyal, appointing directors in each congregation, and later requiring all members who were preaching to report back to the organization weekly.

In 1925, following a dispute over a proposed article, Rutherford dismissed the entire Editorial Committee, giving him full control of the organization and the materials it published. On July 26, 1931, the organization adopted the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" based on the American Standard Version's translation of Isaiah 43:10. In 1932, Rutherford continued to increase his power of the organization by eliminating the system of selecting elders by congregational vote. The system was replaced in 1938 by a theocratic system, under which, all appointments were made from the Watch Tower headquarters.

Major Doctrinal Changes

Rutherford's leadership also brought significant changes in the organization's doctrine, including an announcement in 1918 that Jewish patriarchs (including Abraham and Isaac) would be resurrected in 1925, marking the start of Christ's thousand year reign. This failed prophecy, among past failed prophecies and other doctrinal changes resulted in an even greater decline of membership, with the annual Memorial attendance dropping from 90,434 (in 1925) to 17,380 in only three years.

By 1933, the timing for Christ's presence, his enthronement as king, and the start of the last days were moved in an attempt to match or validate in some way Charles Russel's first prophecy date of 1914. In 1935, it was considered that converts to the movement, if worthy, would survive Armageddon and live in paradise on Earth, whereas membership before this time was mostly composed of those who believed they would be resurrected to live in Heaven, ruling over the Earth with Christ.

As more interpretations of scripture and doctrinal changes continued to develop, Witness publications taught that saluting the flag and standing up for the national anthem are forms of idolatry. There were also instructed to refuse serving in the military, or alternatives for conscientious objectors (until 1996, when alternative civilian service was deemed a "consicience matter").

Rutherford passed away in 1942, at the very mansion he had built for Isaac, Jacob, and Abraham's return after his failed 1925 prophecy. The mansion was quietly sold by the Jehovah's Witnesses after Rutherford's passing.

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