Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Henry Ford's philosophy and Jehovah's Witnesses

Henry Ford had many great ideas.  We all know about his great car and his Ford Motor Company,  but Ford also changed the face of American industry with some avant-garde concepts.  He paid his workers a high wage that shocked industrial and financial sensibilities of the time.  This higher wage contributed to the development of a middle class.  However, Ford's idea of a high wage for a day's work was more self-serving than it might appear.  Ford had figured out that if he paid high wages to his employees, those very employees would become the customers that would buy his cars.  Genius.  Workers as customers.

The Ford Motor Company's Website describes Ford's philosophy on how the American worker could also be the American customer:
"Henry Ford had reasoned that since it was now possible to build inexpensive cars in volume, more of them could be sold if employees could afford to buy them. The $5 day helped better the lot of all American workers and contributed to the emergence of the American middle class. In the process, Henry Ford had changed manufacturing forever."  (J.E. Taylor, 2003)

Ford had figured out that by paying his factory workers a high wage, and producing more cars in less time for less money, that everyone would have enough money to buy a Ford motor car.  Ford was strongly criticized by Wall Street for initiating a 40 hour work week and a fair minimum wage. He soon proved, however, that paying high wages would enable Ford employees to afford the very cars they were producing, and ultimately benefit worker, company, state and country.

Allow me to now suggest one other place where Ford's philosophy seems to have been applied - that affected me as a former 'worker bee' for Jehovah's Witnesses, when I was in my teens and early twenties:

Jehovah's Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching work where they talk to you a little, and end by asking you to read their literature.  From what I have read, they now no longer tell you how much the literature costs (in a ploy to avoid having to pay sales taxes), but offer them for any small contribution you would be willing to donate, and if you cannot afford to contribute to the cost of their printing, the Witness has been told to give them to you for free.

When I was knocking on your doors, we charged 10 cents per magazine and one dollar for a small hard-covered book.  Not a lot of money.  But what I have only recently realized is that The Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society, the official, administrative printing wing of the Jehovah's Witnesses, did not care if we collected any of the money we were to charge in the door-to-door 'ministry', since they had already received all the money they wanted FROM US.  We were never told to turn over the money given to us for the literature to the Watchtower Society Yes the real customers of this mega printing operation were/are the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves. 

At weekly meetings we would replenish our personal stock of magazines and books before going out in your neighborhood to try and convert you.  We paid about 1/3 of what we charged the person at the door - so about 3 cents for a magazine we were told to charge 10 cents for to the interested party.  The seven cents profit we would make did not enrich any of us, as we had to pay for our gas to get to your area and were never paid a cent for the time we devoted to going door-to-door, and, truth be told, very few of you were interested in purchasing them anyway.  Every week we had magazines left over in our bags (that we had purchased at the Kingdom Hall) that we had not been able to convince you to buy.

These patterns of distributing their literature were established in the 1920s/1930s - about the same time as Ford published his philosophy of making the workers the customer.  So the canny directors of the Watchtower Society seem to have adopted Ford's genius principle and expanded upon it.  The real customers for those magazines were Jehovah's Witnesses themselves, not the people they disturbed in their door to door ministry.  Not only were we the true customer, we were recruited to offer our time and energy at no charge to produce the literature. 

(Above you see a picture of one of the first presidents of the organization setting off for a convention in Detroit in his chauffeur driven Cadillac.  Sorry Henry, they used your ideas but not your cars.) 

In fact, we were always told that if we could not sell the magazines (they actually always used the word 'place' the magazines, so we could avoid thinking of ourselves as peddlers and continue to fool ourselves thinking we were servants of the true god, Jehovah), we should give them away once the next issue had emerged.   The leaders of the Society also suggested we leave them in waiting rooms and bus stations so the 'multitudes could read about the good news of God's kingdom'.  They did not care if they were given away, as they had already made their money on the magazines when we little worker bees paid for them at the Kingdom Hall (what Witnesses call their churches).

With this method, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society developed an international printing business with branches and huge printing plants in many countries around the world.  The headquarters, at that time, was in Brooklyn, New York where their printing operation and residences for all the volunteer workers took up several blocks of real estate.  This real estate has since appreciated greatly and is worth multi-millions.  All the full-time workers in these printing plants were volunteers, who received free room and board at the site of the printing plant - believing that this work of producing magazines was God's work.   More than 340 Jehovah’s Witnesses, all volunteers, work at the new Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s Wallkill, N.Y., printing conglomerate, with over 1,000 volunteers in its 18 printing facilities worldwide.  Below is an old photograph of many of the volunteer resident workers at the Brooklyn headquarters with heads bowed for the prayer before their meal.  After the meal they went off to work, for free, in the offices and printing plant.  These Witnesses felt honored to be able to serve their god in this way.

Back when I was raised a Jehovah's Witness, every other week millions of issues of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines were sent to Kingdom Halls around the world to be minimally paid for by the Witnesses who would be knocking on your doors on the weekends.  Because they were distributing them, and optimistically hoping you would all be welcoming and anxious to purchase them (joke!) all the Witnesses would buy several copies of every issue.  Meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses were built around studying these magazines and talking about their content, so each Witness including children was encouraged to have their own copies for study and meetings, as well as the ones they hoped to sell in their preaching work.

So the Jehovah's Witnesses were even cannier than dear old Henry Ford.  They figured out that they could establish a huge printing conglomerate which they would represent as doing the work of God in these 'end times'.  They would get Witnesses to devote their lives in service of the organization and work for free to print, PURCHASE and distribute their literature.  It worked.  And since they are a religion, The Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society pays no taxes on what it produces nor on its significant property holdings throughout the world.

What is particularly galling to me about what they did was how they accentuated and pushed that this preaching work had to be done and that these magazines were instruments of God to alert the nations that he (God) would soon intervene in human affairs and destroy the wicked at Armageddon and establish his Kingdom rule.  There was always an urgency attached to the work.  Lives were at stake!  People had to know how to save themselves from destruction!  We were doing God-ordained, life-saving work and had to purchase the literature that we would offer to people to literallly save their lives! 

In fact, I have since learned that when sales of the magazines seem to slump, the Witness top brass would come up with a fast-approaching date for the end of times -  to add to the urgency - and the devoted worker bees would work even harder and bring the sales back up.

What the organization knew was that very few people actually became Jehovah's Witnesses because of buying a magazine or book from the Witnesses in this unrelenting preaching work.  Most people who converted to become Jehovah's Witnesses were relatives, friends, neighbours or co-workers of a J.W.   So all this frenzied activity of going door-to-door before Armageddon,  (such as you see here from a photograph taken in the late '50s) was really just to get us to fill our preaching briefcases full of magazines (that we purchased).  They knew it produced very few converts.  So the ruse was to make us believe we were doing God's end of days work, and to make us the customers (buyers) of the magazines.  It was all a grand hoax that we needed to get God's message to the masses via these religious magazines - and to do this work as devoted servants of God - because what loyal worshipper of Jehovah would charge for his or her services.

To summarize:

*  All our production and preaching services were given freely.

*  We were given quotas of how many hours we should spend each week in the preaching work.  If we did not meet those quotas we were 'counselled' by the elders in the congregation.  Knowing we would spend several hours each week going door-to-door we had to be prepared by having purchased several copies of the magazines and books in order to offer them to you - the supposed 'customer'.

*  Their supposed dates for the Battle of Armageddon were always changing to lend urgency to the work we thought we were doing. 

*  We paid small amounts regularly for millions of the publications that we thought God wanted us to distribute to the doomed masses of humanity.

None of the work really counted for anything, as they knew it drew few converts.  All they wanted was for their devoted worker bees to buy the millions of magazines and books.  They knew we ended up giving most of them away by tucking old copies under your welcome mat.

*  The Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society became a multi-national printing company (while claiming it was a religion) by this means.

Jehovah's Witnesses themselves were/are UNKNOWINGLY the customers for the witnessing work's industrial and legal arm called The Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society.  Just as Henry Ford's employees bought his cars, Jehovah's Witnesses themselves bought the magazines that supported the construction and growth of this huge printing organization.  It did not matter one iota whether anyone out there bought the magazines from the worker bees.  The Society of Jehovah's Witnesses flourished with their own adherents as their customers.

The Society did not have to make exorbitant amounts of money from each of us.  They charged very low rates for the magazines, tracts, books and Bibles that we purchased.  They did not have to charge a lot, as they had a guaranteed base of customers who bought several copies of every item they produced.  They clearly understood and used the concept of volume sales for low prices.  

During the time I was a Witness back in the 1960s and 1970s, there were about 3,000,000 of us world wide.  The Watchtower and Awake! magazines were published twice monthly (so 4 per month) and we purchased them for about 3 cents each.  Say conservatively each Witness purchased 5 of each magazine (and many, like my mother, would buy 30 or 40) at 3 cents each.  That would make an income of  approx. $150,000 dollars per issue and with 4 issues per month $600,000 per month - x 12 months - approximately $7,200,000 per year.  That is not counting any book or Bible sales which would have accounted for millions and millions of dollars more.

Now, I believe there are about 6,000,000 Jehovah's Witnesses world wide.  I have no idea how much they pay for the literature they distribute, but you can be sure it is more than what my mother and I were paying back in the sixties and seventies.  I have heard that they are losing members at a fast rate these days, but I am sure that has not affected their application of Ford's idea to use the worker as customer.

It irks me to see Witnesses going from door to door with the literature they have paid for - knowing that they believe the person at the door is The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society's customer, when in fact it is them! The work they are doing is ultimately for naught.  They are being misled, used and scammed.  So sad.


  1. Wow. The mind boggles. Now I know what to say to the next JW who wakes me on a Saturday morning.

  2. Very enlightening. Not trying to be negative or critical, and having been raised in a religion that I now know was mostly misguided, I don't associate with any religious groups. I don't mind that people think what they want, but I do mind when they assume that others really need to believe the same stuff. Then I become hostile rather than tolerant. No one has the right to either entice, or force their beliefs on others. Thanks for an interesting read.

  3. Sounds like the ultimate pyramid scheme where many have been duped. Interesting how the Ford philosophy was used.

  4. We don't get any door to door JWs around here, but if we did I would print this post out and give it to them (or maybe sell it to them?).

    It's yet another example of how organized religion uses people and promotes itself for the benefit of the people in charge, under the guise of "doing God's work" - one of the (various) reasons I left the Catholic Church many years ago.

  5. pau got it right...sure sounds like it to me...i once fell prey to that...and kept a company in buisness for their literature...

  6. I read your wisdom in this post, Bonnie. Pure and simple. It took your experience to perceive what you wrote here; and think of the rarity of this, considering that so many (thousands?) of others are still at this "work". You are an example of evolution at it's very best: obedient sheep can and DO turn into wise owls. Congratulations from one of your biggest fans. EFH

  7. This is an amazing post bonnie! a friend recently became JW- breaks my heart as her little girl grows up in a non celebratory home of less than good cheer...I know that if I print this out or try to talk to her- she will think it is the devil's work...

  8. I am always polite to any kind of religion peddling caller, polite but very firm. The people who come to the door or buttonhole you in the street are themselves poor, deluded, fools with the best of motives.
    The JWs are not unique, perhaps just a touch ridiculous. All proselytizing sects are a pain and all of them feed on their own. How else would they make money to continue the 'good work'?

  9. An interesting posting, Bonnie. There is truly nothing new under the sun. Religion continues to be used for selfish purposes, not in all cases, of course, but in far too many. Thanks for enlightening us on the practices of JW.

  10. How enlightening! I had just never given it any thought, but your analysis is both insightful and terribly disturbing.

  11. I was not surprised when I read this post today. Just sad that religion is a sneaky business and so many people choose not to inform themselves but blindly follow. I know. I was one of those followers once. Now I follow me and celebrate life without guilt or giving money to someone in the church so they can have a big house and gold toilets!

    Really liked this post, Bonnie.

  12. I have always run JW's off! And now to hear this, I feel so sorry for them. What a ruse!!! It is all about the money and control isn't it?!!

  13. I didn't know any of this, Bonnie, and find it scandalous - at best - that people are duped like this. It's got me sitting here shaking my head.
    You have done a service by exposing this scam, and that it is done in the name of religion is way more than galling. I know they're not the only ones to fleece people of their money in return for promises of salvation, but they must be one of the biggest organizers of religious fraud.

    I agree with EFH's comment about your evolution.


  14. Now you know why I don't go for organized religion. The people at the top always seem to be getting in and out of Cadillacs.

  15. This is so amazing! I love your educational posts!

  16. outrageous - there are so many false prophets out there. I am with EFH too. Wise Owl Bonnie. but for those who remain obedient sheep it is so sad indeed. Well done for throwing light on this major scam;

  17. Happy for you that your eyes were finally cleared.

  18. Hello. Thank you for your write up. I was a Witness and raised by Witnesses as well. I have been trying to study other religions and find the facts on God. This brought me across your blog. Now I have never heard of any charge for the publications. When was it that the witnesses were charged for literature? I never paid a dime though I would regularly receive donations to continue sharing the word of God. And that money always went into a contribution box in the Kingdom Hall. Just posting mainly out of curiosity... lol.
    Jamie C.

  19. Intersting take on matters. As someone raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses it seems that the idea of working and belonging to an international brotherhood based on bible principles is a positive thing in today's world.

    Proverbs 10: 22 (Young's Literal Translation)
    "The blessing of Jehovah -- it maketh rich, And He addeth no grief with it."

    Is being raised by Jehovah's Witnesses a bad experience?

  20. Actually, Witnesses do not pay anything for the magazines or publications. It is a VOLUNTARY donation that the Witnesses CHOOSE to give. You do not have to give anything. There is also no specified amount of time that you have to be out in field service. That is only if you want to auxiliary or regular pioneer, but even then it is a personal decision that you are going to go out in field service for that amount of time. People no longer have to pay for anything, they do it because they want to. Also you only are talked to by the elders if you are committing a moral wrongdoing, you want to have encouragement, or you are just friends with them and you just want to talk to them. There is NO scam, we all know what we are doing and we are happy to do so. What you don't get is that we are in the last days and even though that has been said or years and many thought that the new system would already be here, the world is just getting worse, can't you see that. I am sorry that you feel this way and that you do not understand. It really makes me want to cry knowing that you and these people feel this way. It is hard to keep going but it is the only way to stay happy and have peace. But to emphasize it once more, NO we do not have to pay ANYTHING that we do not want to pay NO it is no scam. Go to a meeting and today they will not talk about any money or about how to get magazines in peoples hands, they will talk about how people are not understanding that the point of us being out in field service is to start b=Bible studies so that they can actually understand the Bible and decide what IS the truth.

  21. I guess you never earned that,and maybe when you were a witness you didn't know that or that wasn't how it was, but "the light keeps getting brighter" and it is. I am sorry that you are missing out on this and on the life to come. But I hope that you will have a happy life, and if I am being completely honest I want you to try and talk with Witnesses now and know the TRUTH about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and why we still believe. I do not care if you give any money to the organization or not actually I COULD CARE LESS! Every one deserves a second chance no matter how hard it is to give it. This is no scam, there is not any scam, there is just the hope and truth that we try to teach and you can decide for yourself whether or not it is true. Do you know that what you are saying is way off base? My mom, 20+ years ago was a Catholic. She wanted to understand the Bible. She went to her priest, he gave her a pamphlet that she didn't understand. She didn't understand it and asked for help and he took the pamphlet back from her and shut the door on her face. She then met on of Jehovah's Witnesses, he asked her if she thought it would be nice if the whole world was a park. She said es and he responded that it would be. She asked how do you know and he said that the Bible said so. My mom was SHOCKED that any actually knew what the Bible said. She started to study with his sister. Her parents then kicked her out of the house because she wouldn't stop studying. Different families in the congregation then took her in and supported her. They became her family. She never had to pay for what she was learning or do any certain thing, but she did what she knew was right and what she wanted to. She married my dad a couple years later and they pioneered together, because they wanted to. Then they had kids and I was the firstborn, I got baptized when I was 16, and you know it was because I was ready and because I wanted to. I am auxiliary pioneering in April to get ready for the Memorial, I am going to do it for 30 hours because for that month they are lowering the hours to make so that more can have the opportunity to do so. Instead of 50 I am doing 30, because it is my first time. Life is hard and sometimes it seems as if the end will never come, but you know I am happy, I really am. I am not getting paid and I am not going to pay anything for the magazines, tracts, or books that I am, hopefully, going to place. And I am not, nor is anyone else, going to get paid for the free home Bible studies. And do you know what I am just fine with that and so is any other witness. I hope that you have a good life and I hope that you are happy. Good-Bye.

  22. Hi Anonymous,

    Thank you for your up-date on how Jehovah's Witnesses operate now. I have no doubt that what you say is true. I can only speak to how it was when I was a witness. We did pay a small feel for our magazines and books - but did not have to pay back the fixed small amount we were asked to charge the householder. Do you ever wonder why they made this switch from charging to not? You can be sure it was not entirely out of the goodness of the WB&TS's heart, though good many of their hearts may be -it was to avoid having to pay taxes on goods they were selling. Soon print materials will be irrelevant and they will have to disseminate their teachings via the internet - perhaps they already are ...

    Do you ever wonder why on the true God's light would need to get brighter and brighter? This is some phrase from the Bible the society uses to justify the frequent changes they make in interpretations of the Bible and rules for being a member in good standing of the WatchTower, Bible & Tract Society. God's truth changes????!! What kind of a feeble God would that be? What kind of God would withold truth - especially, for example, 'truth' about ingesting blood derivatives. By witholding certain amounts of 'truth' from the governing body, lives were sacrificed in obedience to the amount of truth God had given???!!! If the organization possesses THE truth (even if it is at times a changing truth) why can that truth not withstand your asking questions about it at the meetings? Why would God's truth not be stronger than any doubts that could be cast upon it?

    I was probably a Witness longer than you have been alive and my mother and grandmother were witnesses. Every member of my extended family were Witnesses. I was a special pioneer and auxilliary pioneered many times as a teenager. My husband, who also left, was an elder and assembly servant.

    You say you are at peace and happy - but you sound quite defensive and rather angry. Does it disturb you to read valid critiques of what the organization did or does from previous witnesses who were/are just as sincere as you are?

    I thank you for your good wishes. You do not have to feel sorry for me. I am free. I read what I want. I can explore the diversity of life, beliefs, teachings on our beautiful planet. I live an upright life and have raised three amazing good children (who frequently thank me for getting out of that religion and not oppressing them with it, btw).

    If you are happy as a Witness that is fine. If you secretly harbour doubts, I encourage you to simply read other material - get other points of view - if you have THE truth, it surely should be able to withstand simple curiousity and inquiry.

  23. I have to corroborate that at least up till the early '80's, Witnesses had to buy the material they went door to door with. My grandparents and two aunt/uncle pairs were JW.

    God Bless,


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