Rotary was founded in 1905 by Paul Harris, an attorney who settled in Chicago but found himself without friends or clients—and decided to start meeting with like-minded individuals to find solutions for his community.
While we are sure that Paul Harris didn’t imagine at that time that Rotary would become one of the world’s largest and most influential service organizations, his heart was focused on helping others. Now, over 100 years later after it was founded, Rotary continues to help the world by inspiring people just like YOU to become involved and engaged in a Rotary Club near you.
Here are some interesting facts about Rotary that can help you see how Rotary evolved with the times and adjusted its mission to meet the needs of a changing world:
- First Meeting: Paul Harris held the first Rotary meeting on February 23rd, 1905 with three other members: Gustavus Loehr (a mining engineer), Silvester Schiele (a coal broker), and Hiram Shorey (a merchant tailor). By the end of the year, Rotary Club One had grown to 30 members.
- Origin of the Name: The name Rotary comes from the fact that the meeting rotated from one member’s office to the next, ensuring participants knew about each other’s business and professional classification.
- Establishing its Purpose: In 1911, members of the Rotary Club of Seattle presented The Object of Rotary as a core platform for service and good citizenship as professionals.
- First-Name Basis: Since its formation, Rotary has advocated for the use of first names to address each other, regardless of their education or social status. This fosters an amicable atmosphere without hierarchies related to personal achievement.
- Global Reach: Although originally named National Association of Rotary Club, the name Rotary International was officially adopted in 1922 after new Rotary Clubs were chartered in England and Northern Island.
- Pathways to Service: Rotary’s original four Avenues of Service (Club Service, Vocational Service, Community Service, and International Service) were established in 1924, but were later amended in to a fifth: Youth Service.
- Universal Code of Ethics: Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor initially created The Four-Way Test for his own aluminum company in 1932, hoping to inspire his employees through the financial distress of the Great Depression. Rotary later adopted The Four-Way test as its universal code of ethics in 1943.
- Adopting a Motto: Although it existed in various forms, Rotary’s motto of “Service Above Self” was officially adopted in 1950 as a way to communicate what Rotarian life represents.
- Fighting Polio: It all started in 1979 when a Rotary Club in the Philippines established a service project to vaccinate children in an effort to stop the spread of Polio. Rotary then decided to create the Polio Plus global vaccination initiative in 1985 and later on, in 1988, it joined the United Nations in its Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
- Women in Rotary: Rotary had an all-male membership until 1987, when the organization began accepting women as members. Today, about 30 percent of Rotary’s membership is made up of ladies, many of whom are leading as Presidents, District Governors, Directors, and soon enough, a Rotary International President.
- Rotary’s Areas of Focus include: Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution, Disease Prevention and Treatment (including Polio Plus), Water and Sanitation, Maternal and Child Health, Basic Education and Literacy, and Economic and Community Development.
- Writing the Next Chapter: Rotary continues to evolve and its future is yet to be written. We need more People of Action with a desire to make a difference in the world—and you are part of the story we are still writing.
There is still so much work to be done in Rotary’s mission, as well as keeping the spirit of Service Above Self alive in our actions.