The History of Rotary International

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 organisation 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 organisation’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 including Presidents, Prime Ministers, a host of luminaries and most importantly ordinary, everyday people.

The issue of female membership was suggested in the early days but it did not gather momentum until the 1980’s when women around the world were openly seeking equal status in established social, sporting and business groups. Today 15% of members are female and many of them have taken on presidential and district governor roles. We are yet to work under the leadership of a female World President.

Today there are 1.2million professional and business leaders who proudly call themselves Rotarians and the common bond that binds us all together is the simple fact that we care and are committed to activities that will change the inequalities and circumstances of all people in need.

Mottos and Logos

Kindle the spark within

Kindle the spark within (1962/3)

Every year a new World President is inducted and some of  the   first official duties he/ she undertakes is to unveil a logo and theme for the coming year along with the delivery of an inspirational and motivational Address at the World Convention.

Rotary themes are usually simple and meaningful statements that are memorable and significant to all Rotarians.

Light up Rotary (2014/15)

Light up Rotary (2014/15)


Historic Moments – Rotary’s 105th anniversary


The first four Rotarians: (left to right) Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram Shorey, and Paul Harris.


During the first Rotary club meeting on 23 February 1905 in Chicago, Paul Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Hiram Shorey, and Silvester Schiele met to talk about their personal experiences. Harris then unfolded his general plan for their club meetings. This was the simple beginning of the worlds first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago. It was created because of Harris wish 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. Rotarians continue to take pride in their history. In honor of that first club, Rotarians have preserved its original meeting place, Room 711 in Chicagos 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 at RI World Headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Evanston.

For more historical information about Rotary, visit Rotary History and Archives or the Rotary Global History Fellowship