History

“Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.” —Paul P. Harris

Rotary International is the world’s premier international humanitarian service organization, supporting education and economic development, providing clean water, improving health and sanitation, and promoting peace. Rotary’s 1.2 million members are business and professional leaders from nearly every country in the world who volunteer their expertise and compassion to improve communities around the world.
Rotary is close to achieving its top goal of eradicating polio worldwide. After more than 25 years of hard work, the number of polio cases worldwide has been reduced by 99 percent. Rotary members have contributed more than $1.2 billion and countless volunteer hours to immunize more than 2 billion children in 122 countries against polio.

Rotary History

Our 1.2 million-member organization started with the vision of one man—Paul P. Harris. The Chicago attorney formed one of the world’s first service organizations, the Rotary Club of Chicago, on 23 February 1905 as a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships.

Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of each member.Paul P. Harris, an attorney, wanted to create a professional group with the same friendly spirit he felt in the small towns of his youth. On 23 February 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. They decided to call the new club “Rotary” after the practice of rotating meeting locations. Within five years clubs had formed across the country, from San Francisco to New York.

In August 1910, Rotarians held their first convention in Chicago. The 16 clubs that existed at that time united to form the National Association of Rotary Clubs. In 1912, the name changed to International Association of Rotary Clubs to reflect the addition of clubs in other countries. The name Rotary International was adopted in 1922. By July 1925, Rotary had grown to more than 2,000 clubs and an estimated 108,000 members  on six continents.

Rotary’s reputation attracted presidents, prime ministers, and a host of other luminaries to its ranks — among them author Thomas Mann, diplomat Carlos P. Romulo, and composer Jean Sibelius.

As Rotary grew, members pooled their resources and used their talents to serve their communities. The organization’s dedication to this ideal is best expressed in its motto: Service Above Self.