In July 1879, Russell began publishing a monthly religious journal, Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence. In 1881 he co-founded Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society with William Henry Conley as president; in 1884 the corporation was officially registered, with Russell as president. Russell wrote many articles, books, tracts, pamphlets and sermons, totaling approximately 50,000 printed pages. From 1886 to 1904, he published a six-volume Bible study series originally titled Millennial Dawn, later renamed Studies in the Scriptures, nearly 20 million copies of which were printed and distributed around the world in several languages during his lifetime. (A seventh volume was commissioned by his successor as society president, Joseph Rutherford, and published in 1917.) The Watch Tower Society ceased publication of Russell's writings in 1927, though his books are still published by several independent groups.
After Russell's death, a crisis arose surrounding Rutherford's leadership of the society, culminating in a movement-wide schism. As many as three-quarters of the approximately 50,000 Bible Students who had been associating in 1917 had left by 1931. This shift resulted in the formation of several groups that retained variations on the name Bible Students. Those who maintained fellowship with the Watch Tower Society adopted the name Jehovah's witnesses in 1931, while those who severed ties with the Society formed their own groups including the Pastoral Bible Institute in 1918, the Laymen's Home Missionary Movement in 1919, and the Dawn Bible Students Association in 1929.
Charles Taze Russell was born to Scottish-Irish parents, immigrant Joseph Lytel Russell // (d. December 17, 1897) and Ann Eliza Birney (d. January 25, 1861), on February 16, 1852 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Russell was the second of five children, of whom two survived into adulthood. His mother died when he was 9 years old.
The Russells lived for a time in Philadelphia before moving to Pittsburgh, where they became members of the Presbyterian Church. When Charles was in his early teens, his father made him partner of his Pittsburgh haberdashery store. By age twelve, Russell was writing business contracts for customers and given charge of some of his father's other clothing stores. At age thirteen, Russell left the Presbyterian Church to join the Congregational Church. In his youth he was known to chalk Bible verses on fence boards and city sidewalks in an attempt to convert unbelievers; he particularly noted the punishment of hell awaiting the unfaithful.
At age sixteen, a discussion with a childhood friend on faults perceived in Christianity (such as contradictions in creeds, along with medieval traditions) led Russell to question his faith. He investigated various other religions, but concluded that they did not provide the answers he was seeking. In 1870, at age eighteen, he attended a presentation by Adventist minister Jonas Wendell. Russell later said that, although he had not entirely agreed with Wendell's arguments, the presentation had inspired him with a renewed zeal and belief that the Bible is the word of God.