The First One a Hundred Years Ago

The legal charter of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was officially recorded in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on December 15, 1884. * There the headquarters of this society was established. Later, on April 23, 1900, property for the first branch office was secured in London, England. It was located at 131 Gipsy Lane, Forest Gate, in East London, as shown here.

WHEN that first branch was established a hundred years ago, England had a total of 138 Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. Two years later, in 1902, a second branch was opened, in Germany; and by 1904, additional branches had been set up in Australia and Switzerland.

In 1918, the year World War I ended, there were 3,868 Bible Students reporting preaching activity worldwide. The following year the fifth branch of the Watch Tower Society was established—this one in Canada. Then, as the proclamation of the Bible’s message gained momentum, new branches were opened in many different countries, six in 1921 alone.

By 1931, when the Bible Students adopted the Bible-based name Jehovah’s Witnesses, there were 40 branch offices throughout the world. (Isaiah 43:10-12) During the next three years, the number increased to 49! By 1938 there was a peak of 59,047 Witnesses preaching in 52 countries, but by then fierce opposition had begun to threaten their Christian activity in many places.

As political totalitarianism and dictatorships spread from country to country and World War II broke out in September 1939, branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses were closed in one country after another. By 1942, only 25 were still operating. Amazingly, however, during that most devastating war in human history, Jehovah’s Witnesses remained active worldwide and enjoyed one of their greatest rates of growth in modern history.

Even as World War II was ending in 1945—and many parts of the world lay in ruins—branch  offices of the Witnesses were reopened and new ones were established. By 1946 there were 57 worldwide. And how many active Witnesses were there? A peak of 176,456! That is almost three times as many as in 1938!

How the First Branches Expanded

In 1911 the first branch of the Watch Tower Society, in London, England, was moved to 34 Craven Terrace, where more office and living space was available. Then on April 26, 1959, new branch facilities in Mill Hill, London, were dedicated. Later the living quarters were enlarged, and eventually (in 1993) a 200,000-square-foot [18,500 m2] printery and administrative complex was dedicated nearby. Here over 90 million copies of The Watchtower and Awake! are produced annually in 23 languages.

The expansion of the Society’s second branch was even more dramatic. In 1923 the Germany branch was moved to Magdeburg. The Watchtower of July 15, 1923, was the first to roll off the Society’s own printing press there. During the next few years, adjacent property was purchased, buildings were added, and bindery equipment and additional presses were obtained. In 1933 the branch was confiscated by the Nazis, the Witnesses were banned and, in time, two thousand of them were sent to concentration camps.

When World War II ended in 1945, the property in Magdeburg, then part of East Germany, was returned and the branch was reestablished. But on August 30, 1950, Communist police stormed the facilities and arrested the workers, and the Witnesses in East Germany were banned. In the meantime, in 1947 property had been purchased in Wiesbaden, West Germany. During the following decades, the branch buildings constructed there were repeatedly enlarged to keep up with literature demands.

Because no further room for expansion was available in Wiesbaden, some 75 acres [30 hectares] were purchased near Selters in 1979. After about five years of construction, a large  branch was dedicated on April 21, 1984. It has since been expanded, so that it can accommodate well over a thousand branch workers. Each month over 16 million magazines in more than 30 languages roll off the huge offset printing presses in Selters; and in a recent year, over 18 million books, including Bibles, were produced by the bindery.

Other Major Printing Branches

A branch was first established in Kobe, Japan, in 1927, but severe persecution of the Witnesses during World War II curtailed their activity. Shortly after the war, however, the branch was reestablished, in Tokyo. When no further space for expansion was available there, a new branch was constructed in Numazu. It was dedicated in 1973. When these facilities were quickly outgrown, large new ones were built in Ebina, and these were dedicated in 1982. Expanded facilities at this site, which can accommodate 900 workers, were recently completed. In the Japanese language alone, over 94 million copies of The Watchtower and Awake! were printed in 1999, as were millions of books.

The expansion of branch facilities has been similar in country after country. A branch was established in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1929. Then, when the number of Witnesses had reached 60,000, a spacious new facility was built outside the city. It was dedicated in 1974, and additions to it were completed in 1985 and 1989. Now nearing completion are a large new printing facility and additional living quarters. As a result, the Mexico branch will soon be able to accommodate 1,200 workers. Already the branch is providing magazines and books for the more than 500,000 Witnesses and millions of other people in Mexico as well as for people living in nearby countries.

In 1923 a branch office was organized in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and later fine new quarters were built there. But since São Paulo is the business and transportation center of Brazil, in 1968 a new branch was constructed in that city. By the mid-1970’s, there were about 100,000 Witnesses in Brazil. However, further expansion was impossible in São Paulo, so a 285-acre [115 hectares] site was purchased at Cesário Lange, about 90 miles [150 km] outside São Paulo. On March 21, 1981, the branch facilities at that new location were dedicated. As a result of expansion at this site, the branch can accommodate some 1,200 people. Magazines and books are produced in Brazil for much of South America as well as for other parts of the world.

Another large printing branch was completed in the early 1990’s, near Bogotá, Colombia. There Watchtower and Awake! magazines are produced for distribution throughout northwestern South America.

Other branches that print millions of magazines annually are located in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Finland, Italy, Korea, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, and Spain. The branch in Italy also produces millions of books, including Bibles, each year in many languages. Of course, much of the annual production, which amounts to more than 40 million books and over one billion magazines, is still carried out at the headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Brooklyn, New York, as well as at its printery in upstate New York.

Truly, it is remarkable that the number of branch offices has increased from one a hundred years ago to 109 today that serve the needs of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 234 lands. And to think that these are staffed by some 13,000 dedicated Christian volunteers! Surely, their work along with that of the some 5,500 volunteers associated with the Society’s headquarters has been vital to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus Christ that ‘this good news of God’s Kingdom would be preached in all the inhabited earth before the end comes.’—Matthew 24:14.

[Footnote]

^ par. 2 Then called Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society.

[Picture on page 17]

Tom Hart, believed to have been the first Bible Student in England

[Pictures on page 18]

London branch at 34 Craven Terrace (in photo on right)

[Pictures on page 18]

Facilities currently in use in London