Our History

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Rotary History

A Brief History

The world's first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, Illinois, USA, was formed on 23 February 1905 by Paul P. Harris, an attorney who wished to recapture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. The name "Rotary" derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members' offices.

Rotary's popularity spread throughout the United States in the decade that followed; clubs were chartered from San Francisco to New York. By 1921, Rotary clubs had been formed on six continents, and the organization adopted the name Rotary International a year later.

As Rotary grew, its mission expanded beyond serving the professional and social interests of club members. Rotarians began pooling their resources and contributing their talents to help serve communities in need. The organization's dedication to this ideal is best expressed in its principal motto: Service Above Self. Rotary also later embraced a code of ethics, called The 4-Way Test, that has been translated into hundreds of languages.

During and after World War II, Rotarians became increasingly involved in promoting international understanding. In 1945, 49 Rotary members served in 29 delegations to the United Nations Charter Conference. Rotary still actively participates in UN conferences by sending observers to major meetings and promoting the United Nations in Rotary publications. Rotary International's relationship with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) dates back to a 1943 London Rotary conference that promoted international cultural and educational exchanges. Attended by ministers of education and observers from around the world, and chaired by a past president of RI, the conference was an impetus to the establishment of UNESCO in 1946.

An endowment fund, set up by Rotarians in 1917 "for doing good in the world," became a not-for-profit corporation known as The Rotary Foundation in 1928. Upon the death of Paul Harris in 1947, an outpouring of Rotarian donations made in his honor, totaling US$2 million, launched the Foundation's first program — graduate fellowships, now called Ambassadorial Scholarships. Today, contributions to The Rotary Foundation total more than US$80 million annually and support a wide range of humanitarian grants and educational programs that enable Rotarians to bring hope and promote international understanding throughout the world.

In 1985, Rotary made a historic commitment to immunize all of the world's children against polio. Working in partnership with nongovernmental organizations and national governments thorough its PolioPlus program, Rotary is the largest private-sector contributor to the global polio eradication campaign. Rotarians have mobilized hundreds of thousands of PolioPlus volunteers and have immunized more than one billion children worldwide. By the 2005 target date for certification of a polio-free world, Rotary will have contributed half a billion dollars to the cause.

As it approached the dawn of the 21st century, Rotary worked to meet the changing needs of society, expanding its service effort to address such pressing issues as environmental degradation, illiteracy, world hunger, and children at risk. The organization admitted women for the first time (worldwide) in 1989 and claims more than 145,000 women in its ranks today. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Rotary clubs were formed or re-established throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

More than a century after Paul Harris and his colleagues chartered the club that eventually led to Rotary International, Rotarians continue to take pride in their history. In honor of that first club, Rotarians have preserved its original meeting place, Room 711 in Chicago’s 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 on the 16th floor of RI World Headquarters in nearby Evanston.

 
1905  
First Rotary club organized in Chicago, Illinois, USA
 
1908

Second club formed in San Francisco, California, USA
 
1910
First Rotary convention held in Chicago, Illinois, USA
 
1912
The Rotary Club of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, becomes the first club outside the
United States to be officially chartered. (The club was formed in 1910.)


1917
Endowment fund, forerunner of The Rotary Foundation, established
 
1932
4-Way Test formulated by Chicago Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor
 
1945
Forty-nine Rotarians help draft United Nations Charter in San Francisco
 
1947
Rotary founder Paul Harris dies; first 18 Rotary Foundation scholarships granted
 
1962
First Interact club formed in Melbourne, Florida, USA
 
1965
Rotary Foundation launches Matching Grants and Group Study Exchange programs
 
1985

Rotary announces PolioPlus program to immunize all the children of the world against polio
 
1989

Council on Legislation opens Rotary membership to women worldwide; Rotary clubs chartered in Budapest, Hungary, and Warsaw, Poland, for first time in almost 50 years


1990

Rotary Club of Moscow chartered first club in Soviet Union
 
1990-91

Preserve Planet Earth program inspires some 2,000 Rotary-sponsored environmental projects
 
1994
Western Hemisphere declared polio-free
 
1999
Rotary Centers for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution established
 
2000

Western Pacific declared polio-free
 
2001

30,000th Rotary club chartered
 
2002
Europe declared polio-free; first class of 70 Rotary Peace Scholars begin study
 
2003
Rotarians raise more than US$118 million to support the final stages of polio eradication


2004
RI’s largest convention with 45,381 attendees, held in Osaka, Japan


2005
Rotary Celebrates centennial in Chicago, Illinois, USA