Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) was born to Presbyterian Ulster Scot parents in Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was nine; four years later he achieved a local reputation as a devoted Bible student, and left the Presbyterian church for the Congregationalists. He was acute at business from an early age, and his father made him a partner in the family clothing shop – business and religion were to be his two main interests for the rest of his life.
When he was 18, he and his father established a Bible study group with the inspiration and attendance of two Adventist ministers. They came to the conclusion that the Trinity, hell, and immortality of the soul were among several doctrines not to be found in the Bible. Russell and his compatriots did, however, become convinced that the Bible revealed that the world would end in 1878. When this did not happen, as a consolation Russell continued preaching and teaching. In 1881, he founded what would become the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Pittsburgh; 27 years later, he moved its headquarters to Brooklyn, NY, where it remained until 2016.
In addition to his other doctrines, Russell was very interested in Pyramidology and the perfection of a sort of “miracle wheat”. Promotion of the latter and other suchlike products brought him occasional interest from the authorities, as did his sensational divorce trial in 1908. The International Bible Students, as his followers came to be called, paid little heed to such things. In a more strictly religious mode, he also preached an imminent return of Christ (in 1914).
Dying two years after the non-return of Christ, Russell was succeeded by Joseph F Rutherford, who dropped the pyramids and other parts of Russell’s theology. Under him Russell’s followers became the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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