History of Rotary

As my year as President of the Rotary Club of Palm Springs ends and “Light Up Rotary” comes to an end, I have found it interesting to rediscover the history of Rotary.

Invited to dinner by a fellow attorney, Paul Harris is inspired to start an organization where men of different professions could gather in fellowship. He spends some five years considering this possibility.

1 Club

First gathering, on Thursday evening, 23 February 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. by attorney Paul P. Harris. Young Harris, fresh from a wild five years as a reporter, actor, cowboy, seaman, granite salesman, fruit picker and hotel clerk, five years building a successful law practice, then had an idea. It was regarding observations of success and respect which could come from organizing professional acquaintances. More years past. He had given this much thought by the time he and Silvester Schiele walked over to Gus Loehr’s office, in Room 711 that cold winter night in 1905, almost 9 years from his arrival in Chicago. Several weeks later, Schiele was elected the first president of Rotary when the meeting was held in his office. Harris suggested several names, one of them being “Rotary.”


Members agree to be on “first name” basis. Singing introduced by Harry L. Gurgles. Rotary “Wagon Wheel” emblem adopted, the first of many varieties of “wheel emblems” to be used by different clubs, until 1912, when a geared wheel History of the Rotary Wheelwas adopted, this to be follow by authorization of an official emblem (1924), a wheel of six spokes, twenty-four cogs, and a “keyway.”


First community service project: a “public comfort station” in Chicago near City Hall for men and women. Harris writes that he was pressured by both the saloon keepers and lady’s garment stores not to install such a convenience.


2 Clubs

San Fransisco Second club formed in San Francisco California, U.S.A. by businessman Homer Wood. Paul Harris had asked Chicago Rotarian, Manuel Munoz, who was being sent to San Francisco by his employer, to “spread the word” about Rotary. The timing was perfect. San Francisco businessmen needed a boost. It has been just two years since the devastating earthquake of 1906 which nearly destroyed the city.


7 Clubs

Homer WoodsHomer Wood then organized Oakland, California, USA #3, Seattle, Washington, USA #4 and Los Angeles, California, USA #5 by the end of 1909. Two days after Christmas, Seattle #4 organized Tacoma, Washington, USA #8. It was an answer to Paul Harris’s prayers. Rotary was an idea that could be taken to many cities.

1910 William Morrow San Francisco Rotarian William Stuart Morrow becomes an unlikely figure in Rotary history. His San Francisco business dissolves and he returns home to Dublin, Ireland and brings Rotary with him. He organizes several clubs in Ireland and the UK He has the full the endorsement of Paul Harris and Ches Perry, until he runs afoul of London Rotarians.


16 Clubs

Chesley PerryFirst Rotary convention was held in Chicago, 15-17 August, with sixteen clubs in Rotary. The National Association of Rotary Clubs was formed. Paul Harris was elected president of the Association and served two terms. Chesley R. Perry began 32 years of service as Secretary, then General Secretary of Rotary from 1910-1942.
1910 Rotary “principles” adopted in form of five objectives
1910 Rotary becomes “international” on 3 November 1910 with the “organization” of Rotary Club of Winnipeg, Canada. Winnipeg then was chartered as Club #35 on 13 April 1912 prior to the Duluth, Minnesota USA convention when Rotary become the International Association of Rotary Clubs.
1910 Jean ThomsonMr & Mrs Paul HarrisPaul becomes a founding member of the Prairie Club of Chicago. On one of the club’s early hikes a beautiful young woman from Edinburgh, Scotland points out a tear in his jacket and offers to fix it. Jean Thomson and Paul Harris were married several months later. In two years he bought her a large home and they named their home after a road in Edinburgh, “Comely Bank.” There they started their life long friendship garden.

31 Clubs

Convention in Portland. 15 new clubs had joined the ranks of NARC. Many others were organized and “doing” business as those in the United Kingdom were. The following is from Rotary International http://www.rotary.org/ news andinfo/ presscenter/regnews/euromide/index.html “Rotary spread like wildfire across the Atlantic to Ireland, Great Britain, continental Europe, and the Middle East. Six years after Chicago lawyer Paul Harris formed the first Rotary club in 1905, Rotary admitted the Rotary Club of Dublin, Ireland, followed in 1912 by clubs in Belfast and London and Manchester, England. Harry Lauder was one among many Europeans who embraced Rotary in those early days. As one of the world’s most popular entertainers through the first half of the century, Lauder joined the Rotary Club of Glasgow in 1914. A year later he wrote, ‘Rotary is going to be the greatest and grandest cooperative institution ever founded.'”
1911 The National Rotarian magazine was born with General Secretary Ches Perry as the editor
1911 At the 1911 convention in Portland, the Rotary Club of Seattle proposes a platform that becomes the Rotary platform

Today’s platform is much the same.

“He Profits Most Who Serves Best” is also part of that platform


50 Clubs meet in Duluth with delegates from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and the organization becomes “The International Association of Rotary Clubs.” London joins the same year as the 50th club. 5,000 members. Paul Harris is named President emeritus.


First districts (then called divisions) are established, 8 in U.S.A., 2 in Canada, one in Britain and Ireland.

By year’s end there were 54 Clubs


89 Clubs
During 18-21 August of 1913, 930 Rotarians gathered in Buffalo, NY, USA for the fourth convention. The charter process catches up with six UK clubs. See Ireland-UK & Archives

Rotary contributes $25,000 active relief funds to help flood victims in Ohio/Indiana


100th Club
The 100th club of the International Association of Rotary Clubs is formed on 1 March in Phoenix, AZ, USA. However, on that particular Sunday, and only that one day in March, there was not one qualified application but six. There is no record of how #100, of the six (#100 – 105) was determined from that selection.

1914 Convention

123 Clubs

15,000 Rotarians
22-26 June and 1,288 Rotarians make the long journey to Houston, TX, USA. Rotarian Henry Brunier of San Francisco and his wife “Ann” boarded a special train for the convention. Since Ann was the only woman on the train for most of the trip, the other Rotarians began calling her “Rotary Ann”. In Houston the Bruniers met Guy and Ann Gundaker of Philadelphia. Soon the name “Rotary Ann” belonged to Guy’s wife as well. The term “Rotary Ann” lasted until the late 1980’s. Gundaker was RIP 1923-24.
1914 War – British Clubs involved in relief work e.g., housing Belgian refugees
1915 The term “Governor” is established for districts. Columbus, GA., U.S.A. is Charter #200
1916 El Club Rotario de la Habana, capital of Cuba. First club in a non-English speaking country.

Arch KlumphIn 1917, Arch C. Klumph, Rotary’s sixth president, proposed to the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, the creation of an “endowment fund for Rotary . . . for the purpose of doing good in the world in charitable, educational, and other avenues of community service.” A few months later, the endowment received its first contribution of $26.50 from the Rotary Club of Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

Also at the 1917 convention: Klumph insisted that the District Governors know the International Constitution and be acquainted with Rotary history.
1917 Club #300 Huntington, Ind., U.S.A.
1918 Club #400 Fort Scott, Kans., U.S.A. 40,000 members world-wide.
1918 One of the less well known Rotary Clubs and, indeed, one that was never chartered was the ALLIED ROTARY CLUB OF FRANCE. Before he left the United States for Europe in the later days of world war one, Ancil Brown, the secretary of the Indianapolis RC and auditor for the YMCA, was authorized by the Board of the IARC to arrange regular meetings for Rotarians stationed in Paris or its vicinity.
1919 First Rotary Club in Asia is chartered in Manila.

Cornelia HarrisPaul Harris’s mother, Cornelia Bryan Harris dies in Denver, Colorado. Paul had spent very little time with his parents who never seemed to be able to keep their family together. It was Paul’s grandfather whose quiet generosity maintained his parents. Paul’s father, George, never very successful in life, is vigilant as his wife’s caretaker at the end of her life.

Club #500 Fremont, Nebr., U.S.A.

1921 Club #1000 York, England. Rotarians James W. Davidson, of Calgary, and J. Layton Ralston of Halifax, appointed as commissioners to organize clubs in Australia and New Zealand.
The International Association of Rotary Clubs is shortened to Rotary International.

While not affiliated directly with Rotary, The Inner Wheel organization commenced in England in 1924 with members being the wives of Rotarians. Their emblem is the Wheel inside the (Rotary) wheel.

1925 Club #2000 Ketchikan, Alaska D5010
1926 George HarrisAt the age of 84, George Harris, Paul’s father dies in Denver, Colorado. Having finally inherited his mother’s estate he could continue his life’s practice of inventions and schemes that never succeeded. Paul Harris wrote that he cherished one fond memory of how his father cared for his mother in her final years. We as Rotarians, should be thankful to Paul’s grandfather, Howard Harris and his grandmother, Pamela Harris without whom there is no doubt Paul’s genius would not have found its “Road to Rotary.”
1928 Paul Harris AutobiographyPaul Harris’s signature is all that is seen on the cover of his 1928 autobiography “The Founder of Rotary,” with a forward by RI General Secretary Chesley R. Perry. Portions of this rare book are displayed here for Rotarians to read.

1928 Paul Harris journalHarris’s tour of Europe is described in his personal journal


Herbert Taylor Rotary four way test4-Way Test was formulated by Chicago Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor who, in the summer of 1932 had a serious business problem. How he solved it is a legend of Rotary. In 1968 Taylor wrote: “I leaned over my desk, rested my head in my hands, and prayed. After a few moments, I looked up and reached for a white paper card. Then I wrote down the twenty-four words that had come to me: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will Rotary four way billboard and better friendships? Will if be beneficial to all concerned?” The “Four Way Test” was adopted by Rotary International in January of 1943

1932 Paul Harris diary Paul Harris’s unpublished diary of his journey to Europe in 1932, during which time he planted “Friendship Trees” in many European cities.

Hear Paul Here! In 1933, Rotary International held its 24th convention in Paul Harris “on the air” speaks to non-Rotarians, who he says may be “Rotarians in their hearts.” Boston, MA, USA, from 26-30 June with 8,430 in attendance. Rotary’s president was from Albuquerque, NM. General Secretary was Chesley Perry. Paul Harris remained active as president emeritus. During the convention, a radio broadcast was arranged heard “around the world” and addressed to “non-Rotarians.” Perry introduced Harris who told his audience “of the air” that if they have “Love of ‘men’ in their heart,” then they are potential Rotarians! Now you can listen to a recording of this famous broadcast.

1935 Paul and Jean Harris travel to Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Canada attending conferences, planting “Friendship Trees,” and Paul writes a statement of international philosophy from Parramatta, Australia.
1935 Paul Harris writes his second autobiography, “This Rotarian Age,” this time mostly about the evolution of Rotary in the first 30 years of the organization.
1936 Club #4,000 Hanover, PA., U.S.A.
1939 Club #5,000 Rockmart, GA, U.S.A.

1941 March 3, 1941 Rotary Club of Palm Springs chartered by Paul Harris who visited Palm Springs in the winter and helped to start the club


“Ches” Perry retires as the first secretary of the National Association of Rotary and then Rotary International after serving over three decades. See tribute in The Rotarian

Seven Rotarians conferred honorary membership on General Douglas Macarthur, in a dark tunnel amongst wounded soldiers, prior to the fall of Corregidor.
1943 January, 1943 Adoption of the Four Way Test, written by Chicago Rotarian Herb Taylor: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will if be beneficial to all concerned?”


Rotary and the UNROTARY AND THE UNITED NATIONS: Forty-nine Rotarians help draft the United Nations Charter in San Francisco. Many of the delegates from around the world were also members of Rotary clubs. During his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower once said that Rotary was only second to the UN in its work for world peace and understanding.
1946 Paul Harris biographyAdventures in Service was first published in the last year of Paul Harris’s life, 1946. It continued to be updated and printed for many years. For The “History of Rotary” Project it constitutes a summary of our project in that it reflects the history and Rotary orientation of the “Paul Harris” years.

January 27 1947

Paul Harris After a many years of ill health, Rotary founder Paul Harris dies. Paul Harris was prominent in other civic and professional work. He served as the first chairman of the board of the National Easter Seal Society of Crippled Children and Adults in the USA and of the International Society for Crippled Children. He was a member of the board of managers of the Chicago Bar Association and its representative at the International Congress of Law at the Hague. He received the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boys Scouts of America for distinguished service to youth, and was decorated by the governments of Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France and Peru.


Jean Harris

Paul’s widow, Jean Thomson Harris, suffers a nervous breakdown. Then, alone and childless, sold “Comely Bank” and lived in a Chicago hotel. Until 1955, she was involved in charity and philanthropy.

Also, in 1947 the first 18 Rotary Foundation scholarships were granted.

Paul Harris biography”My Road to Rotary,” the third book and second autobiography, written by Paul P. Harris is published. The first edition included 14 pages of highlights from 1905 – 1948. These were written for the publisher A. Kroch and Son, by Rotary International under the direction of Rotary’s second General Secretary, Philip Lovejoy.

In this book you’ll hear Paul tell how Rotary came to be. How he became the person who had the vision to create this great movement. It is the only way to understand the values of Rotary from the man who taught them.

1955 Rotary’s Golden Jubilee is celebrated on 23 February with much fanfare in Chicago. Then on May 29 through June 2, the 46th Convention again celebrates the 50th year of Rotary and features a last appearance by Rotary’s “First Lady.” Following the 50th anniversary convention (1955), held in Chicago, Jean Thomson Harris returned to Edinburgh.

1960 Chesney Perry Chesley Reynolds Perry, secretary of Rotary 1910-1942 dies 21 February 1960. Called the “Builder of Rotary” by founder Paul Harris.


First Interact club was formed by Melbourne, Florida U.S.A. Rotary Club. In August of 1962, Jean Harris attends a small reception for the 50th anniversary of RC of Edinburgh. RI president elect Carl P. Miller was in attendance. RC of Edinburgh kept in close touch with Mrs. Harris until her death. The club maintains signs and remembrances to this day.

Jean Harris, dies in Edinburgh, Scotland

Rotary Foundation launches Matching Grants and Group Study Exchange programs


Paul Harris biography”Paul Harris will forever be remembered as the founder of Rotary International.

This account of his life, the first to be published, makes fascinating reading and marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Rotary, which today has nearly one million members in more than 150 countries.” James P. Walsh

Polio Plus Rotary announces PolioPlus program to immunize all the children of the world against polio
1987 US Supreme Court rules women can join be members of Rotary

Council on Legislation changes the constitution and MOP to include women


Moscow Rotary Club Rotary Club of Moscow charted first ever club in then Soviet Union


Preserve Planet Earth Preserve Planet Earth program inspires some 2,000 Rotary-sponsored environmental projects

A re-birth of Paul and Jean Harris’s “Friendship Tree” good-will trips of the 30’s and forty’s results in the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees under the leadership of another “Paul” PRIP Paulo Costa, 1990-1991 Brazil (d2000)


Western Hemisphere declared polio-free
1997 Rotary returns to China, in Hong Kong
1999 Rotary Centres for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution established

RotaryFirst100.org (The “History of Rotary” Project) Website is organized 26 October 2000 by club #43 in Pueblo, Colorado USA

First provisional Rotary Club in Mainland China since WWII in Shanghai.


30,000th Rotary club chartered The “History of Rotary” Project establishes http://www.rotary30000.org

Rotary returns to mainland China in Shanghai and Beijing
2003 The “History of Rotary” Project adds the “First Club” of each Rotary country to the project.

Following the convention in Brisbane, the Centennial Bell begins its journey to all of the “First 100 Clubs” of Rotary to conclude that tour at Chicago for the convention in 2005.

2005 23 February 2005: The Rotary Club of Chicago and Rotary International celebrate the centennial of the first meeting of four men whose gathering became a world wide movement. Rotary International convened the Centennial Convention 19-22 June 2005 in Chicago, Illinois, the birthplace of Rotary.


Rotary opens extension to China and Cuba (source Rotary International) Only four countries remain polio-endemic: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Polio cases worldwide have dropped by 99 percent since 1985.


The Rotary Foundation celebrates the millionth Paul Harris Fellow by recognizing 34 individuals – one from each Rotary zone. The donors receive plaques and certificates honoring their contributions.


Rotary officially launches its effort to match a US$100 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help eradicate polio.

In 2009, Rotary receives another grant of $255 million from the Gates Foundation and launches Rotary’s US$200 Million Challenge to match a portion of the grants and further support efforts to End Polio Now.


Rotary celebrates the 100th RI Convention in Birmingham, England. The event welcomes guest speakers Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, actress and UNICEF goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow, and renowned primatologist and humanitarian Dr. Jane Goodall.


The centennial of Rotary in Canada, and Rotary’s claim as an international organization. 2010 COL approves a Fifth Avenue of Service, eClubs become permanent, support recommended for Comely Bank, and more.

The contents of this project have been researched, collected, compiled and written by hundreds of Rotarians from around the world to preserve the history and underlying philosophies of Rotary. This is a “club service” project of Rotary districts, clubs and other Rotary organizations and enjoys the support of individual Rotarians, clubs, districts and zones all over the globe.

WHO WAS ROTARY ANN? http://www.rotaryfirst100.org/women/issues-early/rotaryanns/story.htm#.VYmknfDjMsY


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