Russell Not First President of Watchtower

from an eBay auction at:

The item at auction is a "cover", or "used envelope" from 1903. In the upper left-hand corner (sender's name and address) is the imprint of "Riter-Conley Mfg. Company, Iron and Steel Construction, Pittsburgh, PA."

This cover is missing its right-hand edge from being torn open by the recipient. There is a April 3, 1903 Pittsburgh postmark on the front, as well as a 2c stamp. The reverse has the out-of-state "received" stamp dated April 11, 1903, as was routine practice in that time period.


Because the "Conley" in "Riter-Conley" was the FIRST PRESIDENT of the WATCH TOWER SOCIETY.

Many, if not the vast majority, of Jehovah's Witnesses think that Charles Taze Russell was the first President of the Watch Tower Society. Sorry, but Russell was NOT!!! Charles Taze Russell was actually the SECOND President of the Watch Tower Society.

The Watch Tower Society was legally founded in February 1881, initially as an "association" type legal entity. Charles Taze Russell was the Watch Tower Society's first "Secreary/Treasurer", and his father, Joseph Russell, was the Society's first "Vice-President".

THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WATCH TOWER SOCIETY was a prosperous Pittsburgh businessman named WILLIAM HENRY CONLEY (1840-97).

Despite the tales told by Charles Taze Russell (and repeated ever since in WatchTower publications), it was William H. Conley who provided much, if not most, of the $$$ in the early days of the Watch Tower Society. When the Watch Tower Society was founded in 1881, William Conley donated $3500 (70%) of the $5000 original capital. Joseph Russell donated $1000 (20%), with Charles Taze Russell donating only $500 (10%). In its first 12 months (1881-2), the Watch Tower Society spent $40,000 on distribution of "Food For Thinking Christians" and other free literature. In later years, Russell insinuated to his gullible sychophants that he and his father were the ones who had footed this hefty expense. However, evidence suggests that while the Russells donated a portion of this $40,000, the majority of the $$$ was actually donated by President William H. Conley.

William Henry and Sarah Conley (1841-1908) were two of the five original "1870s Allegheny Bible Students" to which Watch Tower publications sometimes will make only a quick vague reference. (Now, we know why.) Joseph Russell, and his daughter Margaret, and son Charles Taze, were the other three. The Conley and the Russell families likely became acquainted in the late 1860s or early 1870s, when both families attended the local Advent Christian Church, where they listened to the preaching of Second Adventists Jonas Wendell, George Stetson, and George Storrs. There was a rift amongst Pittsburgh's Advent Christians in the early 1870s, and it may have been at that time that the Conleys and Russells started meeting together - probably at the Conleys' home.

While Joseph and Charles Taze Russell worked for years to build "J. L. Russell & Son" into a "huge" chain of five men's clothing stores, William H. Conley was co-owner of "Riter-Conley Company", a prosperous metal fabrication company which gradually grew over the years into a highly respected WORLDWIDE supplier to the drilling, mining, manufacturing, and marine industries. By the late 1880s, Riter-Conley had in excess of 600 employees, and that figure doubled in the following 20 years.

William Conley had been the bookkeeper for the original Riter operation, which had started back in the mid-1860s. When the founder died in 1873, the deceased Riter's brother and William Conley formed a partnership (Riter-Conley Company) to continue the business. Riter and Conley continued as partners from 1873 until Conley's death in 1897, when Riter formed a corporation (Riter-Conley Mfg. Company) to continue the business.

Buyers should understand that the envelope at auction is from this later corporation (Riter-Conley Mfg. Company). Obviously, the name "Conley" still refers to the deceased William Conley. It is unknown whether any of Conley's heirs held any stock in this later corporation (Conley was survived by his wife Sarah, his elderly Mother, and other relatives), or whether such is true of anyone else connected to the WatchTower Society. It is also notable that this envelope has "Pittsburgh" as its address, since the company sold its Pittsburgh and Allegheny locations, and relocated to Leetsdale. The addressee of this "business envelope" is a female, and she lived some distance away in New England. This is a small size envelope, which suggests the contents may have not been customer related. The surname of the addressee is a surname common to a family with memberS who have held high positions in the Watch Tower Society.

William Conley evidently became rather wealthy from Riter-Conley. Conley was also a stockholder in and Director of the Third National Bank of Allegheny. Both William and Sarah Conley were active in several Pittsburgh charities, including but not limited to a orphanage and school for children of African-American heritage, as well as a local hospital.

William Conley evidently gradually became disappointed that his large donation(s) in 1881/2 did not accomplish any more than they did. The failure of the costly distribution of "Food For Thinking Christians" to garner any significant number of believers, coupled with Russell's previous failed predictions for both 1878 and 1881, probably caused Conley to re-think both his financial support for Russell and his faith in Russell's various doctrinal and prophetic interpretations. Although Conley had been a Second Adventist, he evidently had not been one of the Second Adventists who followed after the irresponsible "time brethren" Second Adventists who repeatedly made predictions for this or that prophecy to happen in certain years. Otherwise, Conley would not have been making new business plans back in 1873/4, the years when Jonas Wendell and Nelson Barbour had been predicting Armageddon. However, when Conley's friend Charles Taze Russell fell under the spell of Nelson Barbour and started teaching that Christ had invisibly returned to the vicinity of the earth in 1874, and when Russell started predicting the Rapture for Passover 1878, and then 1881, Conley evidently must have put some amount of faith in Russell.

However, sometime in 1882 Conley evidently decided that he would make no more "large" contributions to finance Russell's schemes. From latter 1882 until the mid-1890s, the Watch Tower Society reported receiving very few donations, and as a result conducted minimal activity during that ten year stretch. This fact alone indicates that the tales of Russell's great wealth are like nearly everything else that has been told about Russell - much exxagerated.

As much as for the "official reasons" that Russell stated at the time, Russell probably decided to "incorporate" the Watch Tower Society in 1884 so that he could remove "President Conley" from the Watch Tower Society paperwork.

After 1882, Conley's name is not mentioned again in the pages of the Watch Tower Magazine until twelve years later when Russell prints a letter from Conley in a 1894 issue [in which Conley takes up for Russell in another rift which occurred in the Society in the mid 1890s, when again, many of Russell's closest associates turned against him. Interestingly enough, I have identified another "rift" in the Pitt/All area which occurred about this same time, which involved Russell and Conley on opposite sides. However, I don't know the extent to which each were involved, nor whether this second rift had anything to do with the WatchTower rift. However, it appears that Conley's letter to Russell in 1894 was Conley's way of trying to at least stay on friendly terms with Russell]. Russell introduces Conley to the 1894 readers of his Watch Tower Magazine as merely "one of the original Allegheny Bible Students". Russell does NOT disclose to his readers that Conley was actually the Watch Tower Society's FIRST President.

When William Conley died in July 1897, there was no mention of his death in the pages of the Watch Tower Magazine. This is notable, since Russell had published death notices in the Watch Tower Magazine for both of his early Second Adventist teachers - George Stetson and George Storrs.

However, another one of Charles Taze Russell's many "former friends and associates", John H. Paton, did publish notice of Conley's death in his own competing "The World's Hope" magazine. Paton also mentioned that he had stayed at the Conley home numerous times "over the past 20 years". (John H. Paton authored many of the Watch Tower Magazine's articles during its first couple years.) Evidently, Conley had remained closer to the "trinitarian" John H. Paton (who lived in Michigan) than Conley did with Russell, who lived right there in Allegheny. This fact, along with the report that William Conley eventually joined a local Presbyterian Church, might also indicate that William Conley's problems with Charles Taze Russell started when Russell rejected the Trinity Doctrine in 1882. There is also evidence that Conley may have chosen Paton's chronological interpretations over Russell's after 1882.


Because William Conley, the FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WATCH TOWER SOCIETY, and his wife Sarah (who also will always be noted as being two of the five original "Bible Students"), no longer supported nor believed in the teachings of the Watch Tower Society. By the standards of that era, the FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WATCH TOWER SOCIETY had either been DISFELLOWSHIPED by Russell, or Conley had DISASSOCIATED himself, or both.

The specifics are not known. However, it is known that shortly after 1882 that Conley gradually stopped supporting the Watch Tower Society and its teachings, and "moved on" in his pursuit of christian "truth". While maintaining his belief that the Second Advent was "imminent", as well as in the dispensational teachings of [TBD - possibly Paton], Conley evidently rejected the Watch Tower Society's teaching that the Parousia had started in 1874. In 1884, when the Lutheran Minister, George N. H. Peters published his masterpiece "Theocratic Kingdom", Peter's book included a notice of appreciation for Conley's financial assistance. William Conley eventually joined a local Presbyterian Church, which would indicate that Conley did not agree with Russell's rejection of the Trinity Doctrine in 1882. It would also indicate that Conley had also changed his previous Adventist beliefs on the various doctrines relating to the soul, hellfire, and eternal damnation; as well as calvinist doctrines.

William Conley eventually even became involved with another emerging religious movement of that time period. William Conley, the FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WATCH TOWER SOCIETY, had even served on local, state and National Boards of Directors of that other religious organizaton for several years. Conley was probably considered their #1 member in the Pitt area, which one was of that movement's "hottest" areas. That's correct. The man who helped start the Watch Tower movement also helped in the founding of another one of America's religious movements (which also eventually evolved into a separate denomination). Like the Advent Christian Church, this other religious group has probably also been very happy that the Watch Tower Society is so secretive about its past history. This "other group" has been about as forthcoming with info about Conley as has the Advent Christian Church. Given the fact that William Conley was important enough to their movement for their "founder" (accompanied by other movement bigwigs) to leave an ongoing Convention to come to Pittsburgh to preach William Conley's funeral, you would think that some of their websites would have a posted biography of Conley.

Years later, Charles Taze Russell jealously belittled Conley's success in life. Ignoring the fact that William Conley continued to use his fortune to promote the spread of the "true Gospel" after Conley had "moved on" from the Watch Tower Society, Russell even insinuated that Conley had chosen to pursue riches rather than follow Jesus Christ. Russell even had the temerity to suggest that Conley had lost his anointed calling as a heavenly co-ruler with Christ Jesus. Russell knew he was telling a lie when he said such. William Conley had a long trail of using his fortune for a variety of "christian" purposes. He helped support the previously mentioned orphange/school and hospital in Pittsburgh. Conley also supported other local charities. Conley was also very active in local church efforts, including sponsoring annual religious conventions at Carnegie Hall -- all of which Russell was all too aware. Conley even organized and funded a Christian mission in Jerusalem. Put simply: RUSSELL FLAT OUT INTENTIONALLY LIED AND SLANDERED HIS DEAD FORMER FRIEND. Russell's "Pittsburgh area" sychophants, including both those who remained loyal to the WatchTower Society and those who later became part of the various "Bible Student" splinter groups, would all have been fully aware of the truth regarding William Conley, and Russell's libelous slander. ALL WERE PART OF THE RUSSELL CONSPIRACY TO WIPE WILLIAM HENRY CONLEY OUT OF THE WATCHTOWER HISTORY BOOKS.

Here is Conley's OBITUARY published in the other group's magazine:

It is with deep sorrow that we are called upon to record the death of one of our most valued fellow-laborers in ______, and one of the few princely Christian merchants we have in our ____. We refer to Mr. Henry Conley, of Pittsburg, Pa., who passed away at his home in Pittsburg on Sabbath evening, July 25th, after a brief illness of only about a month. Indeed, he was only confined to his room about a week before the end. Mr. Conley was a business man of vey high standing in Pittsburg, and a vast concourse of his fellow citizens gathered at his funeral to pay their last tribute of respect and affection to his memory. The funeral services were conducted at his home in Pittsburg by Rev. [Founder], Rev [Board Member], Rev. [Board Member], and Rev. [___], of Pittsburg, who referred in appropriate terms to his high character and great usefulness.

Mr. Conley was an earnest and loyal member of _____ and one of the leading officers of _____. The remarkable progress which the ______ work during the past two years was largely due to his untiring labors and his wise and earnest counsels. He carried the spirit of business enterprise into his Christian work and did nothing by halves. He was one of the few Barnabases of the church and it is easier to supply a dozen preachers than one such whole-hearted Christ-filled business man. But God remains and He is equal to every need.

Mr. Conley's heart was much in the work of [evangelizing], and his spontaneous liberality has largely helped to keep in operation the blessed [evangelizing] which has been so successfully carried on by our _____ friends in Pittsburg.

But his heart had also caught the Master's geater thought for the evangelizaion of the world. And he has been for many years in the very front of the great missionary movement. Many years ago he supplied the means for planting the present ____ mission in Jerusalem, and he sustained [the missionary's] work up to the close of his death. He was a member of the Board [of the national organization]. He has been from an early day one of the official Board [of their seminary] and took the deepest interest in its welfare.

He leaves a wife, who has long been the sharer of his Christian hopes and plans, to take up the broken thread and finish his life and her's. We are sure the blessed Master will both sustain and use her.

The inspiration of Mr. Conley's life and the theme of his constant testimony was the coming of the Lord Jesus. As our love ones leave us how earnestly we long for that blessed morn to break on the night of earth and time.

We are very sure that our beloved brethren in Pennsylvania will take up and carry on the work in their State with unslackened zeal, and that God will still prove that while He may bury the workers the work will still go on.

***For JW shoppers who do not know the true facts about Russell, the Watch Tower Society, and the Watch Tower Magazine, the above history may be somewhat confusing. JWs need to understand that the Watch Tower Magazine was not owned or published by the Watch Tower Society until many years later - after Russell started donating his business assets to the Society to keep his wife from getting her hands on such during their marital and legal wranglings. Until Russell finally donated such to the Society, the Watch Tower Magazine was owned by Russell personally and operated under Russell's "for-profit" business named Tower Publishing Company. Do you recall reading in modern WatchTower literature how Russell gave away WatchTower magazine subscriptions and other literature to "the Lord's poor"? What Brooklyn isn't telling you is that anything sent out "free", whether it was WatchTower magazines or other literature, was done through the "books" of the Watch Tower Society - not Tower Publishing Company. Whatever "free" literature was supplied from Russell and his Tower Publishing Company was then "paid for" by Russell transferring donations from the Society to his own Tower Publishing Company. Years later, when "colporteurs" were "hired" to sell Russell's books as a "fulltime job", there was a point in time when books shipped to colporteurs on "credit" amounted to an outstanding debt to Russell's Tower Publishing Company of around $10,000. When one of Russell's followers came into a large amount of money and made a substantial donation to the Watch Tower Society, Russell then took most of that person's donation to the Society and paid off the colporteur's debt to Tower Publishing Company (HIMSELF). Russell even charged the Watch Tower Society 6% INTEREST every year on those "bills", which were actually owed by the individual colporteurs. One can only wonder if back in 1882 whether William Conley suspected Russell of making a profit from Conley's large donation(s) to the Society, whose literature was probably supplied to the Society through the books of Russell's Tower Publishing Company.

William Conley JWs FOUNDER & FIRST WATCHTOWER PRESIDENT (more information)


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