Rotary has been around for more than a century. From small acorns sewn by Chicago lawyer Paul Harris back in 1905, so it has grown to one of the most influential global movements.
On February 23rd, 1905 Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram Shorey gathered at Loehr’s office in Room 711 of the Unity Building in downtown Chicago. This was the first Rotary club meeting.
Paul Harris, age 28, soon after he started practicing law in Chicago in 1896. Appeared in “My Road to Rotary.”
It was on February 23rd, 1905, when Paul Harris met with three friends to outline a vision. It was a vision of encouraging fellowship among the business community in the Windy City, generating the sort of friendly spirit he had encountered growing up in a small village in Vermont.
The first four Rotarians (from left): Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram Shorey, and Paul P. Harris, circa 1905-12.
Paul Harris wanted to outline a vision. It was a vision of encouraging fellowship among the business community in the Windy City, generating the sort of friendly spirit he had encountered growing up in a small village in Vermont.
Word soon spread in Chicago as other businessmen were invited to join their group of professionals – the name “Rotary” was derived from the early practice of rotating meetings between different members’ offices.
Soon after, the club name was agreed. One of the members suggested a wagon wheel design for the club emblem – the precursor to the familiar cogwheel now worn by Rotarians world wide – and by the end of 1905, the Rotary Club of Chicago had 30 members.
The second Rotary club was formed in San Francisco in 1908. Further clubs followed in Seattle, Washington, Los Angeles, California and New York. Rotary spread its wings across the border, when a club was formed in Winnipeg, Canada in 1910, and by 1921 there were clubs represented on every continent.
The name Rotary International was adopted in 1922.
Even from those early days, community was at the heart of the Rotary ethos. Early projects included building public ‘comfort stations’ near Chicago’s City Hall and delivering food to needy families.
In 1914, Rotary moved across the Atlantic and the British Association of Rotary Clubs was established. The association was renamed Rotary International in Great Britain & Ireland in 1924.
During the First World War, Rotary discovered new areas for serving communities – at home in war relief and through overseas emergency efforts.
After the Second World War, many clubs which had disbanded during the conflict, were re-established. Clubs in Switzerland and elsewhere organised relief aid for refugees and prisoners-of-war. Some 49 Rotarians participated in the 1945 United Nations’ charter conference in San Francisco.
Mount Hope cemetery in Chicago where Paul Harris was buried.