Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania is a non-stock, not-for-profit organization headquartered in Warwick, New York. It is the main legal entity used worldwide by Jehovah's Witnesses to direct, administer and disseminate doctrines for the group and is often referred to by members of the denomination simply as "the Society". It is the parent organization of a number of Watch Tower subsidiaries, including the Watchtower Society of New York and International Bible Students Association. The number of voting shareholders of the corporation is limited to between 300 and 500 "mature, active and faithful" male Jehovah's Witnesses. About 5800 Jehovah's Witnesses provide voluntary unpaid labour, as members of a religious order, in three large Watch Tower Society facilities in New York; nearly 15,000 other members of the order work at the Watch Tower Society's other facilities worldwide.
The organization was formed in 1881 as Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society for the purpose of distributing religious tracts. The society was incorporated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 15, 1884. In 1896, the society was renamed Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Following a leadership dispute in the Bible Student movement, the Watch Tower Society remained associated with the branch of the movement that became known as Jehovah's Witnesses. In 1955, the corporation was renamed Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. In 1976, all activities of the Watch Tower Society were brought under the supervision of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses.


On February 16, 1881, Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society was formed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, for the purpose of organizing the printing and distribution of religious tracts. William Henry Conley, a Pittsburgh industrialist and philanthropist, served as president, with Charles Taze Russell serving as secretary-treasurer. The society's primary journal was Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence, first published in 1879 by Russell, founder of the Bible Student movement. Other early writers for the Watch Tower Society included J. H. Paton and W. I. Mann. Formation of the society was announced in the April 1881 issue of Zion's Watch Tower. That year, the society received donations of $35,391.18.


On December 15, 1884, the society was incorporated as Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in Pennsylvania as a non-profit, non-stock corporation with Russell as president. The corporation was located in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. In its charter, written by Russell, the society's purpose was stated as "the mental, moral and religious improvement of men and women, by teaching the Bible by means of the publication and distribution of Bibles, books, papers, pamphlets and other Bible literature, and by providing oral lectures free for the people". The charter provided for a board of seven directors, three of whom served as officers—a president, vice-president and secretary-treasurer. The charter stipulated that the officers be chosen from the directors and be elected annually by ballot. Board members would hold office for life unless removed by a two-thirds vote by shareholders. Vacancies on the board resulting from death, resignation or removal would be filled by a majority vote of the remaining board members within 20 days; if such vacancies were not filled within 30 days an appointment could be made by the president, with the appointments lasting only until the next annual corporation meeting, when vacancies would be filled by election.
Anyone subscribing to $10 or more of the society's Old Testament Tracts or donating $10 or more to the society was deemed a voting member and entitled to one vote per $10 donated. Russell indicated that despite having a board and shareholders, the society would be directed by only two people—him and his wife Maria. Russell said that as of December 1893 he and his wife owned 3705, or 58 percent, of the 6383 voting shares, "and thus control the Society; and this was fully understood by the directors from the first. Their usefulness, it was understood, would come to the front in the event of our death... For this reason, also, formal elections were not held; because it would be a mere farce, a deception, to call together voting shareholders from all over the world, at great expense, to find upon arrival that their coming was useless, Sister Russell and myself having more than a majority over all that could gather. However, no one was hindered from attending such elections." The influx of donations gradually diluted the proportion of the Russells' shares and in 1908 their voting shares constituted less than half the total. Russell emphasized the limitations of the corporation, explaining: "Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society is not a 'religious society' in the ordinary meaning of this term" He also stated, "This is a business association merely... It has no creed or confession. It is merely a business convenience in disseminating the truth." Incorporation of the society meant that it would outlive Russell, so individuals who wished to bequeath their money or property to him would not have to alter their will if he died before they did. On September 19, 1896, the name of the corporation was changed to Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
, president of the Watch Tower Society 1884-1916 and founder of the Bible Student movementFrom 1908 Russell required the directors to write out resignations when they were appointed so Russell could dismiss them by simply filling in the date. In 1909, Russell instructed legal counsel Joseph Franklin Rutherford to determine whether the society's headquarters could be moved to Brooklyn, New York. Rutherford reported that because it had been established under Pennsylvania law, the corporation could not be registered in New York state, but suggested that a new corporation be registered there to do the society's work. Rutherford subsequently organized the formation of the People's Pulpit Association, which was incorporated on February 23, 1909, and wrote the charter which gave the president—to be elected for life at the first meeting—"absolute power and control" of its activities in New York. The society sold its buildings in Pittsburgh and moved staff to its new base in Brooklyn. Although all New York property was bought in the name of the New York corporation and all legal affairs of the society done in its name, Russell insisted on the continued use of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society name on all correspondence and publications.
The move from Pennsylvania to New York occurred during court proceedings over the breakdown of Russells' marriage. His wife Maria had been granted a "limited divorce" on March 4, 1908, but in 1909 returned to court in Pittsburgh to request an increase in alimony, which her former husband refused. Authors Barbara Grizzuti Harrison and Edmond C. Gruss have claimed Russell's move to Brooklyn was motivated by his desire to transfer from the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania courts. They claim he transferred all his assets to the Watch Tower Society so he could declare himself bankrupt and avoid being jailed for failure to pay alimony.
In 1914, the International Bible Students Association was incorporated in Britain to administer affairs in that country. Like the People's Pulpit Association, it was subsidiary to the Pennsylvania parent organization and all work done through both subsidiaries was described as the work of the Watch Tower Society. The Watchtower noted: "The editor of The Watchtower is the President of all three of these Societies. All financial responsibility connected with the work proceeds from . From it the other Societies and all the branches of the work receive their financial support... we use sometimes the one name and sometimes the other in various parts of our work—yet they all in the end mean the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, to which all donations should be made."

Leadership dispute

Russell died on October 31, 1916, in Pampa, Texas during a cross-country preaching trip. On January 6, 1917, board member and society legal counsel Joseph Franklin Rutherford, aged 47, was elected president of the Watch Tower Society, unopposed, at the Pittsburgh convention. Under his presidency, the role of the society underwent a major change. By-laws passed by both the Pittsburgh convention and the board of directors stated that the president would be the executive officer and general manager of the society, giving him full charge of its affairs worldwide.
, president of the Watch Tower Society 1917-1942
By June 1917, four of the seven Watch Tower Society directors, Robert H. Hirsh, Alfred I. Ritchie, Isaac F. Hoskins and James D. Wright, had decided they had erred in endorsing Rutherford's expanded powers of management, claiming Rutherford had become autocratic. Hirsch attempted to rescind the new by-laws and reclaim the powers of management from the president, but Rutherford later claimed he had by then detected a conspiracy among the directors to seize control of the society. In July, Rutherford gained a legal opinion from a Philadelphia corporation lawyer that none of his opposers were legally directors of the society.
On July 12, 1917, Rutherford filled what he claimed were four vacancies on the board, appointing A. H. Macmillan and Pennsylvania Bible Students W. E. Spill, J. A. Bohnet and George H. Fisher as directors. Between August and November the society and the four ousted directors published a series of pamphlets, with each side accusing the other of ambitious and reckless behavior. The former directors also claimed Rutherford had required all headquarters workers to sign a petition supporting him and threatened dismissal for any who refused to sign. The former directors left the Brooklyn headquarters on August 8, 1917. On January 5, 1918, Rutherford was returned to office.
In May 1918, Rutherford and seven other Watch Tower directors and officers were arrested on charges of sedition under the Espionage Act. On June 21, 1918, they were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. Rutherford feared his opponents would gain control of the Society in his absence, but on January 2, 1919, he learned he had been re-elected president at the Pittsburgh convention the day before. However, by mid-1919 about one in seven Bible Students had chosen to leave rather than accept Rutherford's leadership, forming groups such as The Stand Fast Movement, Paul Johnson Movement, Dawn Bible Students Association, Pastoral Bible Institute of Brooklyn, Elijah Voice Movement and Eagle Society.
Although formed as a "business convenience" with the purpose of publishing and distributing Bible-based literature and managing the funds necessary for that task, the corporation from the 1920s began its transformation into the "religious society" Russell had insisted it was not, introducing centralized control and regulation of Bible Student congregations worldwide. In 1938, Rutherford introduced the term "theocracy" to describe the hierarchical leadership of Jehovah's Witnesses, with Consolation explaining: "The Theocracy is at present administered by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, of which Judge Rutherford is the president and general manager." The society appointed "zone servants" to supervise congregations and in a Watchtower article Rutherford declared the need for congregations to "get in line" with the changed structure.

Amendments to charter

Following Rutherford's death in 1942, Nathan H. Knorr became president of the Watch Tower Society, and subsequently introduced further changes to the role of the society. At a series of talks given in Pittsburgh on September 30, 1944, coinciding with the society's annual meeting, it was announced that changes would be made to the 1884 charter to bring it into "closer harmony with theocratic principles". The amendments, most of which were passed unanimously, significantly altered the terms of membership and stated for the first time that the society's purposes included preaching about God's kingdom, acting as a servant and governing agency of Jehovah's Witnesses, and sending missionaries and teachers for the public worship of God and Jesus Christ. The new charter, which took effect from January 1, 1945 included the following changes:
In 1976, direction of the Watch Tower Society and of the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide came under the control of the Governing Body, reducing the power of the society's president. The society has described the change as "one of the most significant organizational readjustments in the modern-day history of Jehovah's Witnesses."
Following the death of Knorr in 1977, subsequent presidents of the Watch Tower Society have been Frederick W. Franz ; Milton G. Henschel, Don A. Adams and Robert Ciranko. Adams and Ciranko are considered "helpers" to the Governing Body, which retains authority over the corporations.



The corporation is a major publisher of religious publications, including books, tracts, magazines and Bibles. By 1979, the society had 39 printing branches worldwide. In 1990, it was reported that in one year the society printed 696 million copies of its magazines, The Watchtower and Awake! as well as another 35,811,000 pieces of literature worldwide, which are offered door-to-door by Jehovah's Witnesses. As of 2013, the Society prints more than 43 million of its public issues of these magazines each month, totaling over 1 billion annually.
The society describes its headquarters and branch office staff as volunteers rather than employees, and identifies them as members of the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah's Witnesses. Workers receive a small monthly stipend with meals and accommodation provided by the society. The "Bethel family" in the Brooklyn headquarters includes hairdressers, dentists, doctors, housekeepers and carpenters, as well as shops for repairing personal appliances, watches, shoes and clothing without charge for labor.
The society files no publicly accessible financial figures, but reported in 2011 that it had spent more than $173 million that year "in caring for special pioneers, missionaries and traveling overseers in their field service assignments". Donations obtained from the distribution of literature is a major source of income, most of which is used to promote its evangelical activities.
Author James Beckford has claimed the status of voting members of the society is purely symbolic. He said they cannot be considered to be representatives of the mass of Jehovah's Witnesses and are in no position to challenge the actions or authority of the society's directors.

Property ownership

United States

The corporation was first located at 44 Federal Street, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, but in 1889 moved to "Bible House", newly built premises at 56–60 Arch Street, Allegheny, owned by Russell's privately owned Tower Publishing Company. The new building contained an assembly hall seating about 200, as well as editorial, printing and shipping facilities and living quarters for some staff. The title for the building was transferred in April 1898 to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
In 1909, the society moved its base to Brooklyn. A four-story brownstone parsonage formerly owned by Congregationalist clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher at 124 Columbia Heights was converted to a residence for a headquarters staff of 30, as well as an office for Russell. A former Plymouth church building at 13–17 Hicks Street was also purchased and converted into Watch Tower headquarters, with room for 350 staff. It contained an 800-seat assembly hall, shipping department and printing facilities. The Watch Tower announced: "The new home we shall call 'Bethel,' and the new office and auditorium, 'The Brooklyn Tabernacle'; these names will supplant the term 'Bible House.'" In October 1909, an adjoining building at 122 Columbia Heights was bought. In 1911, a new nine-story residential block was built at the rear of the headquarters, fronting on Furman Street and overlooking the Brooklyn waterfront. The Brooklyn Tabernacle was sold in 1918 or 1919.
Printing facilities were established in Myrtle Street, Brooklyn in 1920 and from the February 1, 1920 issue The Watch Tower was printed by the society at the plant. Two months later the plant began printing The Golden Age. In 1922, the printing factory was moved to a six-story building at 18 Concord Street, Brooklyn; four years later it moved again to larger premises, a new eight-story building at 117 Adams Street, Brooklyn, at which time the society's headquarters was rebuilt and enlarged. In December 1926, a building at 126 Columbia Heights was bought, and a month later the three buildings from 122–126 Columbia Heights were demolished and rebuilt for accommodation and executive offices, using the official address of 124 Columbia Heights.
In 1946, property surrounding the Adams Street factory was bought to expand printing operations and five more properties adjoining 124 Columbia Heights were purchased for a 10-story building. In the late 1950s a property at 107 Columbia Heights, across the road from 124 Columbia Heights, was bought and by 1960 a residential building for staff was constructed there. More residences were built at 119 Columbia Heights in 1969.
The Watchtower detailed further expansion in the 1950s and 1960s: "In 1956, a 13-story building was constructed at 77 Sands Street. Then just across the street, another was purchased in 1958. In 1968, an adjoining 11-story new printing factory was completed. Along with the factory at 117 Adams Street, these fill out four city blocks of factories that are all tied together by overhead bridges. Then in November 1969, the Squibb complex located a few blocks away was purchased."
The society bought the Towers Hotel at 79–99 Willow Street in 1974 for accommodation, which is connected to the society's other Columbia Heights properties via tunnels. In 1978, a property at 25 Columbia Heights underwent renovation for use as offices and in the early 1980s properties were bought at 175 Pearl Street and 360 Furman Street for factory and office use. A building at 360 Furman Street was bought in March 1983 and renovated, providing almost 9 hectares of floor space for shipping, carpentry and construction. The Bossert Hotel at 98 Montague Street was also bought in 1983 as a residence building. 97 Columbia Heights, the former site of the Margaret Hotel, was purchased in 1986 as it was ideally located next to WTBTS residences at 107 and 124 Columbia Heights and it could easily tie in with the main complex on the other side of the street by means of an under-street tunnel. An 11-story residential building was erected on the site to house 250 workers. A property at 90 Sands Street was also bought in December 1986 and a 30-story residential building for 1000 workers was completed on the site in 1995. A 1996 publication listed other Watch Tower residential buildings in Brooklyn including the 12-story Bossert Hotel, 34 Orange Street, Standish Arms Hotel at 169 Columbia Heights, 67 Livingston Street, and 108 Joralemon Street.
Two properties known as Watchtower Farms, at Wallkill, north of Brooklyn and totaling, were bought in 1963 and 1967 and factories erected in 1973 and 1975. 2012-2014 the Society is adding an office building, residence building and garage. In 1984, the society paid $2.1 million for a 270 hectare farm at Patterson, New York for a development that would include 624 apartments, garages for 800 cars, and a 149-room hotel. Other rural purchases included a farm near South Lansing, New York and a farm near Port Murray, New Jersey.
In February 2009, the society paid $11.5 million for 100 hectares of land in Ramapo, Rockland County, New York for an administration and residential complex. The site was reported to be planned as a base for about 850 Watch Tower workers, creating a compound combining residential and publishing facilities currently located in Brooklyn. A Witness spokesman said the land was currently zoned for residential uses, but an application would be made to rezone it, adding that "Construction is several years in the future."
A year later, the Society announced it planned to move its world headquarters from Brooklyn to a proposed eight-building complex, replacing the pre-existing four-building complex on a 100-hectare Watch Tower property in Warwick, New York, 1.5 km from its Ramapo site. A Watch Tower presentation to Warwick planning authorities said the complex would house up to 850 people. In July 2012, the Warwick planning commission approved the environmental impact statement for building the Warwick site. In July 2013, Warwick approved building plans of the multiple building complex of the new headquarters, including four residence buildings of 588 rooms for about 1,000 people. In August 2011, a 50-acre property was bought in Tuxedo, NY, with 184,000 square foot building, for $3.2 million, six miles from the Warwick site to facilitate the staging of machinery and building materials. The Society bought a 48-unit apartment building in Suffern, NY near Warwick, NY for housing temporary construction workers in June 2013. On December 3, 2014 the Society bought 250-unit Rivercrest Luxury Apartments in Fishkill, Dutchess County, NY. The sale price was not released, though taxes on the sale indicated a transaction of $57 million. The current leases will not be renewed.

Brooklyn property sales

In 2004 the society began transferring its printing operations to its Wallkill factory complex. The move triggered the sale of a number of Brooklyn factory and residential properties including:
  • 360 Furman Street, sold in 2004 for $205 million;
  • 67 Livingston Street, sold in 2006 for $18.6 million.
  • 89 Hicks Street, sold in 2006 for $14 million.
  • Standish Arms Hotel, 169 Columbia Heights, sold in 2007 for $50 million.
  • 183 Columbia Heights, bought in 1986, offered for sale in 2007 and sold in April 2012 for $6.6 million.
  • 161 Columbia Heights, bought in 1988, offered for sale in 2007 and sold in March 2012 for $3 million.
  • 165 Columbia Heights, offered for sale in 2007 and sold in January 2012 for $4.1 million.
  • 105 Willow Street, offered for sale in 2007 and sold in April 2012 for $3.3 million.
  • 34 Orange Street, offered for sale in 2007 and sold in November 2012 for $2,825,000.
  • Bossert Hotel, 98 Montague Street, bought in 1983, offered for sale in 2008. sold in 2012 to a hotel developer, Rosewood Realty Group, for $81 million.
  • 50 Orange Street, bought in 1988, renovated to sell 2006, and sold in December 2011 for $7.1 million.
  • 67 Remsen Street, offered for sale in July 2012, and sold the same year for $3.25 million.
  • Three adjoining properties sold together for 30.6 million in April 2013 to Urban Realty Partners.
  • 55 Furman Street, 400,000 sq. ft., is for sale as of June 2013.
  • Five adjoining properties, offered for sale in September 2011, under contract as of July 2013 to a three company buy-out. A sixth building in this sale will be released in 2017, after the scheduled completion of the Jehovah's Witnesses' new headquarters in Warwick, NY. The properties are under contract for $375 million at completion of the sale.
  • Two private parking lots are for sale as of June 2013.
  • 124 Columbia Heights, bought in 1909, was sold in May 2016 to Florida Panthers' Vincent Viola for $105 million.
  • In 2016, three more properties valued at an estimated $850 million to $1 billion—including the headquarters building—were put up for sale. The WatchTower Society reached a deal to sell the headquarters at Columbia Heights for $700 million. The Watch Tower Society sold the 25/30 Columbia Heights complex along with adjoining 50 and 58 Columbia Heights and 55 Furman Street sites on August 3, 2016 for $340 million.
In 2011 the Watch Tower Society was reported to still own 34 properties in Brooklyn; a 2009 report calculated "a dozen or more" properties in the Brooklyn area. In a 2010 news report the Watch Tower Society said it was "not actively promoting" the sale of eight Brooklyn properties still on the market. Watch Tower Society's remaining nine unsold Brooklyn properties are 97, 107, and 119 Columbia Heights; 80 and 86 Willow Street; 21 Clark Street ; parking lots at 67 Furman Street, 1 York Street and 85 Jay Street; and 90 Sands Street already arranged to sell in 2017. Many sold buildings are to be emptied by 2017. The Furman Street properties and parking lots are for sale currently as stated above.

Other countries

In 1900, the Watch Tower Society opened its first overseas branch office in Britain. Germany followed in 1903 and Australia in 1904. By 1979 the society had 39 printing branches throughout the world, with facilities transferred to farming properties in many countries including Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and Australia. In 2011, the Watch Tower Society had 98 branch offices worldwide reporting to New York directly; other nations' offices report to large branches nearby.



  • Robert Ciranko, director since 2014, president since 2014, Governing Body "helper"
  • Danny L. Bland, director since 2000
  • William F. Malenfant, director since 2000, vice-president since 2000, Governing Body "helper"
  • Robert W. Wallen, director since 2000, vice-president since 2000, Governing Body "helper"
  • Philip D. Wilcox, director since 2000
  • John N. Wischuk, director since 2000, Governing Body "helper"


Directors are listed generally from most to least recent. List may not be complete.
  • Don Alden Adams, director 2000-2014, president 2000-2014
  • Richard E. Abrahamson
  • Milton George Henschel
  • Lyman Alexander Swingle
  • Willam Lloyd Barry
  • Frederick William Franz
  • Grant Suiter
  • William K. Jackson
  • Nathan Homer Knorr
  • John Otto Groh
  • Thomas J. Sullivan
  • Alexander Hugh Macmillan
  • Hugo Henry Riemer
  • William Edwin Van Amburgh
  • Hayden Cooper Covington
  • Joseph Franklin Rutherford
  • Charles A. Wise
  • John A. Baeuerlein
  • Richard Henry Barber
  • Charles H. Anderson
  • John A. Bohnet
  • George H. Fisher
  • Walter E. Spill
  • Andrew N. Pierson
  • Robert H. Hirsh
  • James Dennis Wright
  • Isaac F. Hoskins
  • Alfred I. Ritchie
  • Henry Clay Rockwell
  • Charles Taze Russell
  • J. H. Giesey
  • William M. Wright
  • Henry Weber
  • Maria Frances Russell
  • John B. Adamson
  • Rose J. Ball
  • Simon O. Blunden
  • William C. McMillan
  • William Imrie Mann
  • J. F. Smith


Critics including Raymond Franz, Edmond C. Gruss and James Penton have accused the society of being authoritarian, controlling and coercive in its dealings with Witnesses. Franz, a former Governing Body member, has claimed the Watch Tower Society's emphasis of the term "theocratic organization" to describe the authority structure of Jehovah's Witnesses, which places God at the apex of its organization, is designed to exercise control over every aspect of the lives of Jehovah's Witnesses and condition them to think it is wrong for them to question anything the society publishes as truth. The Watch Tower Society has been accused of employing techniques of mind control on Witnesses including the direction to avoid reading criticism of the organization, frequent and tightly controlled "indoctrination" meetings, regimentation, social alienation and elaborate promises of future rewards. Apart from life stories, all Watch Tower Society magazine articles and other publications are written anonymously and correspondence from the society does not typically indicate a specific author or personal signature.