Major Proposal Reveals Watchtower Magazine Cost

One of the major projects I worked on at the Watchtower's world headquarters in Brooklyn during the 1979-1980 era was that of testing and cost-accounting the web printing operations, in order to determine the feasibility of converting our 60 MAN-brand letterpresses to offset printing. Each press already represented an investment of $250,000 - $450,000, depending on their age, so this was no small proposal!).

The project was headed by Thomas Cabeen (pressroom overseer). Jim Petrie (offset floor overseer) and myself (Bible and Bible-paper publications floor overseer) were asked to assist Mr. Cabeen in this extensive project.

For those not familiar with the unlikely project, it would be the equivalent of converting a tractor to a sports car (sixty of them, to be exact). About a year earlier, hordes of Japanese businessmen toured Bethel, taking extensive pictures of all the printing equipment. The Factory Committee at Brooklyn then requested a proposal to the Japanese for converting 60 MAN letterpresses to offset printing, which included 40 presses in New York and 20 overseas.

For fear that they were going to go ahead with such an industry-unheard-of plan, not to speak of the tens of millions of dollars it would waste (and make our jobs MUCH harder), Tom received permission to do a cost study on the conversion prior to its implementation.

As part of our work, we were allowed to tour the Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C. and a couple of other large printeries. Months were spent in preparing the study, only to have it sit on the desks of the Factory Committee officers, who were intent on proceeding with the conversions. N.H. Knorr had been very much against offset printing, for reasons not fully understood. Tom Cabeen speculates that he did not trust a process that he could not "see" or fully understand, whereas in letterpress printing you could "see" and feel the type embedded in the paper, at least. Much of this prejudice rubbed off on the other older members of the Factory Committee, who also resented new ideas proposed by "young whippersnappers" such as ourselves.

Though we were never given credit for saving them tens of millions of dollars (not even a thank you!) we took payment in humor. We learned to enjoy life in spite of their resistance, and yes, even life at Bethel. For evidence of our humor, fed by the unraveling of the "Great Apostasy" (also called the "Franz Incident," stay tuned.

Randy Watters

To review the actual factory conversion proposal under the authorship of Thomas Cabeen, along with the accompanying chart revealing the cost of producing the Watchtower magazines (at that time being sold for 25 cents each) click here pressroom conversion. Bring along some popcorn, and if ya get bored, zoom down to the white chart towards the end.


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