The first four Rotarians:
Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele,
Hiram Shorey, and Paul P. Harris
(from left) Courtesy of Rotary Images
Rotary International History
The world's first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, was formed on 23 February 1905 by Paul P. Harris, an attorney who
wished to capture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. The Rotary name
derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members' offices.
Rotary's popularity spread, and within a decade, clubs were chartered from San Francisco to New York to Winnipeg, Canada.
By 1921, Rotary clubs had been formed on six continents. The organization adopted the Rotary International name a year later.
As Rotary grew, its mission expanded beyond serving club members’ professional and social interests. Rotarians began pooling
their resources and contributing their talents to help serve communities in need. The organization's dedication to this ideal is best
expressed in its motto: Service Above Self.
By 1925, Rotary had grown to 200 clubs with more than 20,000 members. The organization's distinguished reputation attracted
presidents, prime ministers, and a host of other luminaries to its ranks — among them author Thomas Mann, diplomat
Carlos P. Romulo, humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, and composer Jean Sibelius.
In 1932, Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor created The Four-Way Test,
a code of ethics adopted by Rotary 11 years later. The test, which has been translated into more than 100 languages, asks the following questions:
Of the things we think, say or do
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Rotary and World War II
During and after World War II, Rotarians became increasingly involved in promoting international understanding. In 1945, 49
Rotary members served in 29 delegations to the United Nations Charter Conference. Rotary still actively participates in UN
conferences by sending observers to major meetings and promoting the United Nations in Rotary publications.
Rotary International's relationship with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) dates back
to a 1943 London Rotary conference that promoted international cultural and educational exchanges.
In 1945, 49 Rotary club members served in 29 delegations to the UN
Charter Conference. Rotary still actively participates in UN conferences by sending observers to major meetings and covering the United Nations in its publications. Attended by ministers of
education and observers from around the world, and chaired by a past
president of RI, the conference was an impetus to the establishment of UNESCO in 1946.
"Few there are who do not recognize the good work which is done by Rotary clubs throughout the free world," former Prime Minister
Winston Churchill of Great Britain once declared.
An endowment fund, set up by Rotarians in 1917 "for doing good in the world," became a not-for-profit
corporation known as The Rotary Foundation in 1928. Upon the death
of Paul Harris in 1947, an outpouring of Rotarian donations made in his honor, totaling US$2 million,
launched the Foundation's first program — graduate fellowships, now called Ambassadorial Scholarships. Today, contributions to
The Rotary Foundation total more than US$80 million annually and support a wide range of humanitarian grants and educational programs that enable Rotarians
to bring hope and promote international understanding throughout the world.
Dawn of a new century
In 1985, Rotary made a historic commitment to immunize all of the world's children against polio. Working in partnership with non governmental
organizations and national governments thorough its PolioPlus program, Rotary is the largest private-sector contributor
to the global polio eradication campaign. Rotarians have mobilized hundreds of thousands of PolioPlus volunteers
and have immunized more than one billion children worldwide. By the 2005 target date for certification
of a polio-free world, Rotary will have contributed half a billion dollars to the cause.
As it approached the 21st century, Rotary worked to meet society’s changing needs, expanding its
service efforts to address such pressing issues as environmental degradation, illiteracy, world hunger, and children at risk.
In 1989, the organization voted to admit women into clubs worldwide and now claims more than 145,000 female members in its ranks.
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Rotary clubs were formed or re-established throughout
Central and Eastern Europe. The first Russian Rotary club was chartered in 1990, and the organization underwent
a growth spurt for the next several years.
More than a century after Paul Harris and his colleagues chartered the club that eventually led to Rotary International,
Rotarians continue to take pride in their history. In honor of that first club, Rotarians have preserved its original meeting place,
Room 711 in Chicago’s Unity Building, by re-creating the office as it existed in 1905.
For several years, the Paul Harris 711 Club maintained the room as a shrine for visiting Rotarians. In 1989, when the building was
scheduled to be demolished, the club carefully dismantled the office and salvaged the interior, including doors and radiators.
In 1993, the RI Board of Directors set aside a permanent home for the restored Room 711 on the 16th floor of RI World Headquarters in nearby Evanston.
Today, 1.2 million Rotarians belong to over 32,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.