The Jehovah's Witnesses began in the latter half of the 19th century. The organization's presidents, including Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Rutherford, led the religion through times of opposition from within and from outside observers.Continue Reading
In the early 1870s, Charles Taze Russell organized a Bible study group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1879, he launched a magazine that expressed his newly discovered beliefs; the magazine survives today as "The Watchtower." In 1886, Russell began writing "Studies in the Scriptures," a series of books studied by the religion's early followers. The religion began to promote the belief that Jesus' second coming would occur in 1914. The organization moved its headquarters to Brooklyn, New York, in 1909.
Joseph Rutherford was elected to Russell's position following Russell's death in 1916. He was immediately sentenced to prison along with other high-ranking officials for refusing to join the U.S. Army during World War I. After his release, Rutherford introduced a companion magazine, currently known as "Awake!" Rutherford also promoted door-to-door witnessing and radio sermons. In 1931, Rutherford officially changed the religion's name to Jehovah's Witnesses.
Rutherford used his background as an attorney to attain several legal victories in the United States for the organization's religious freedom in the 1930s and 1940s. However, the Witnesses experienced heavy persecution in Nazi Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom during World War II. Nathan Knorr succeeded Rutherford in 1942 and further organized the religion.Learn more about Christianity