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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Brooklyn Bethel—100 Years of History (1909 - 2009)

THE year 1909 was a momentous one for New York City. The Queensboro Bridge was opened, connecting the borough of Queens with Manhattan, and the Manhattan Bridge was opened, making another connection between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

It was also a momentous year for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Earlier, Charles Taze Russell, president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the legal arm of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had seen the potential for expanding the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) He believed that moving the Society’s headquarters from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Brooklyn, New York, would be an important step in doing so. Preparations for the move had begun in 1908, and the move was made early the following year.

Why Move to Brooklyn?

Those taking the lead in the preaching work back then knew that evangelizing by sermons printed in newspapers was an effective way to spread Bible truth. In fact, by the year 1908, Russell’s weekly Bible sermons appeared in 11 newspapers with a combined circulation of 402,000.

However, Russell wrote: “Brethren familiar with newspaper methods . . . assure us that if the weekly sermons emanated from a [larger center] it would possibly result in the publication of the sermons all over the United States; that within a year there might be hundreds of papers publishing them regularly.” Therefore, the hunt was on for the best location to expand the preaching work.

Why Brooklyn? Russell said: “Altogether we concluded, after seeking Divine guidance, that Brooklyn, N.Y., with a large population . . . and known as ‘The City of Churches,’ would, for these reasons, be our most suitable center for the harvest work.” The results speak for themselves. In a short space of time, 2,000 newspapers were publishing Russell’s sermons.

New York was a good choice for yet another reason. By 1909, branch offices had been established in Great Britain, Germany, and Australia, with more soon to follow. Hence, it made sense to locate the world headquarters in a seaport city that also had substantial road and rail links.

Why Called Bethel?

The original headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was established in the 1880’s, in Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. Back then, it was called the Bible House. By 1896, this facility was staffed by 12 members.

With the move to Brooklyn in 1909, though, the new residence for the staff members was called Bethel. Why Bethel? The property that the Watch Tower Society purchased at 13-17 Hicks Street was owned by the prominent clergyman Henry Ward Beecher and was known as the Beecher Bethel. Beecher’s former residence, located at 124 Columbia Heights, was also purchased. The March 1, 1909, issue of The Watch Tower reported: “It certainly seems very remarkable that we should get the old Beecher Bethel and then by accident get his former residence. . . . The new home we shall call ‘Bethel,’ and the new office and auditorium, ‘The Brooklyn Tabernacle’; these names will supplant the term ‘Bible House.’”

Today, the greatly expanded facilities in Brooklyn and at two other locations in New York State, Wallkill and Patterson, including both the residence, the printery, and the offices, have come to be called Bethel. In fact, worldwide there are now Bethel homes in 113 countries. They are staffed by more than 19,000 ministers, who help to distribute Bible information.

A Warm Welcome to Visitors

The facilities were dedicated on January 31, 1909. Monday, September 6, 1909, was Reception Day at Bethel. Hundreds of Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, toured the facility. Many of them came directly from a Christian convention held in Saratoga Springs, about 200 miles [320 km] upriver from New York City. Charles Taze Russell personally welcomed and greeted the visitors.

Visitors continue to be welcome at Bethel. In fact, each year more than 40,000 people tour the Brooklyn facilities. Brooklyn Bethel continues to play a vital role in the expansion of Jehovah’s Kingdom interests, to the blessings of untold millions.


The Hebrew word “Bethel” means “House of God.” In the Bible, Bethel was a prominent Israelite city. Only the city of Jerusalem is mentioned more frequently.

For additional historic details, see Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, pages 718-723, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

What Do You Know About the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society?

The corporation now known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania was chartered in 1884 as Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society. Its purpose was to spread abroad Bible truth, especially by means of the printed page. Today, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society remains one of the legal instruments used worldwide by Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Philippians 1:7.

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society has produced Bibles and Bible-based publications in 473 languages. It has published in whole or in part more than 150 million copies of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in 72 languages. In addition to the New World Translation, the Society has printed on its own presses or has commissioned the printing of the following Bible translations: the American Standard Version, The Bible in Living English, The Emphatic Diaglott, Holman’s Linear Parallel Edition, the King James Version (including the Bible Students Edition), and The New Testament Newly Translated and Critically Emphasized, Second Edition.

Apart from printing Bibles, over just the past ten years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have produced more than 20 billion other items, such as books, magazines, tracts, CDs, DVDs, and similar Bible-based material. The majority of these items have been printed, packaged, and shipped from Bethel homes located in such countries as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, and the United States.


In 2008, there were 7,124,443 Jehovah’s Witnesses in 236 lands. They were organized into 103,267 congregations.

This material is not sold. The Bible education work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is supported by voluntary contributions.


1998-2008 PRODUCTION

Books 458,230,708
Magazines 11,292,413,199
Tracts 7,996,906,376
Brochures 862,050,233
CDs/MP3s 34,621,130
DVDs 13,500,125
Other 129,083,031
Total 20,786,804,802

- May 1, 2009 Watchtower, WTB&TS


The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society produces a large amount of literature for use by Jehovah's Witnesses; their best known publications are the magazines, The Watchtower and Awake!. The Watchtower was first published by Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Bible Student movement, in 1879, followed by the inception of the Watch Tower Society in 1881. Following a dispute in the movement's leadership, supporters of the Watch Tower Society's president, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, adopted the name Jehovah's witnesses in 1931. Particularly since 2001, the literature produced by the Watch Tower Society has typically stated that it is "published by Jehovah's Witnesses". Along with books and brochures, other media are also produced, including audio cassettes, videocassettes, and DVDs. New publications are usually released at Jehovah's Witnesses' annual conventions. Most literature produced by Jehovah's Witnesses is intended for use in their evangelizing work. Publications for preaching are also routinely studied by members, both privately and at their meetings for worship. Their most widely distributed publications are: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT), a modern-language translation of the Bible. This is the Bible translation primarily used by Jehovah's Witnesses. Awake!, published in over 83 languages, a general-interest monthly magazine covering many topics from a religious perspective. It has an average circulation of over 39.9 million copies per issue. The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom, published in over 188 languages semimonthly, focuses mainly on doctrine. With an average circulation of over 42 million copies, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed religious magazine in the world. Since 2008, the issue dated 1st of each month is distributed to the public, and the issue dated the 15th is distributed only to members for use in the Watchtower Study. - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (some of these numbers were updated by me on 3/1/2011)


The opening of the Brooklyn Tabernacle on January 31st and the subsequent work in that city, we are assured, would be of deep interest to the friends in general, and hence the present report.

The opening day, appointed a month in advance, found us none too well prepared. Our stationary chairs had not yet been placed and many of the finishing touches were lacking. However, we had a very enjoyable day.

The auditorium is on the second floor and has a seating capacity of over 800, but is conveniently arranged so that the curtains can be drawn, shutting off more than one-third of the seats. The Tabernacle is well lighted from the roof, and the side-walls are embellished with some of the gracious promises of our Father's Word in artistic workmanship and soft colors. The prevalent color of the walls, floor, etc., is olive green. The conditions altogether are very restful, and those who arrive before the meetings commence will find excellent food for quiet meditation.

The floor below this, the street floor, is being fitted up for our office purposes, and the basement floor for our stock and shipping departments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

At an opportune time some friends of the Truth proposed that we purchase such property as would suit our convenience, put it into repair, and that they would furnish the money--we to hold the title and they to take a mortgage for the amount expended, on which they asked but five per cent. interest, and intimated that some of the interest might find its way into the Tract Fund from time to time. This proposal seemed providential and was gladly accepted as the cheapest and best thing possible. We anticipate that the interest will not amount to more than two-thirds of the car-fare estimate, possibly less.

Thus prepared, we made a fresh examination of the district with a view to purchase, and finally made bids upon three properties suitable to our uses with some alterations. We are sure that we will surprise you when we state that the one of the three which came to us at a bargain price is what is known as "The Old Henry Ward Beecher Home." It certainly seems very remarkable that we should get the old Beecher Bethel and then by accident get his former residence. Considerable repairs are necessary, and are being made, but when completed our large family could scarcely be better fixed for the few remaining years of activity which we expect. The new home we shall call "Bethel," and the new office and auditorium, "The Brooklyn Tabernacle"; these names will supplant the term "Bible House."

- March 1, 1909 Watchtower, WTB&TS

But to undertake an all-out campaign of world-wide proportions the Society’s twenty-year-old four-story “Bible House” headquarters in Allegheny (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, had become inadequate, besides being not strategically located for world shipping and communication. So in 1908 representatives of the Society, including its legal counselor, J. F. Rutherford, were sent to Brooklyn, New York, to negotiate the purchase of more desirable quarters. Those quarters Russell himself had found on an earlier trip to New York. They bought the old “Plymouth Bethel,” a mission structure completed in 1868 for nearby Plymouth Congregational Church. This mission, at 13-17 Hicks Street, Brooklyn, had long been used in connection with Plymouth Church (built in 1849 on Orange Street, near Hicks) where about half a century earlier antislavery sermons were preached by the noted Brooklyn clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher. They also purchased the old Beecher residence at 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, where other notables, even Abraham Lincoln, are said to have conferred with Beecher in the 1860’s. On January 31, 1909, some 350 attended the dedication of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, the new name for the now-renovated former “Plymouth Bethel.” Its second-floor auditorium, seating 800, gleamed in soft color, olive green prevailing, with tastefully artistic Bible-text wall decorations. The street floor was altered to be the Society’s headquarters operating office. The large basement floor had been turned into a small printery, stock and shipping departments. Soon, too, the home at 124 Columbia Heights had been readied for occupancy by more than thirty full-time members of the headquarters staff. “The new home we shall call ‘Bethel,’ and the new office and auditorium, ‘The Brooklyn Tabernacle’; these names will supplant the term ‘Bible House.’” By 1911 a spacious new dormitory addition had been completed, adjoining the rear of Bethel and fronting on Furman Street, further enlarging the facilities.

- March 1, 1955 Watchtower, WTB&TS