History of Rotary

A Brief History

On February 23, 1905, a Chicago lawyer, Paul P. Harris, called three friends to a meeting with the intent to kindle fellowship among members of the business community. It was an idea that grew from his desire to find within the large city the kind of friendly spirit that he knew in the villages where he had grown up.

Their gathering was the first meeting of the world’s first Rotary club. As they continued to meet, adding others to the group, they rotated their meetings among the members’ places of business, hence the name. Soon after the club name was agreed upon, one of the new members suggested a wagon wheel design as the club emblem. It was the precursor of the familiar cogwheel emblem now worn by Rotarians around the world. By the end of 1905, the club had 30 members.

The second Rotary club was formed in 1908 half a continent away from Chicago in San Francisco, California. It was a much shorter leap across San Francisco Bay to Oakland, California, where the third club was formed. Others followed in Seattle, Washington, Los Angeles, California, and New York City, New York. Rotary became international in 1910 when a club was formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. By 1921 the organization was represented on every continent, and the name Rotary International was adopted in 1922.

The name Rotary was chosen to reflect the custom, in the early days of the first Rotary Club in Chicago, of rotating the site of club meetings among the members’ places of business. This rotation, an integral part of the founder’s original concept, was designed to acquaint members with one another’s vocations and to promote business, but the club’s rapid growth soon made the custom impractical.

The enthusiasm with which Rotarians embraced the ideal of service is evidenced by Rotary’s principal motto, “Service Above Self” and its other official precept, “He Profits Most Who Serves Best.” The roots of both of these adages, adopted as official mottos at the 1950 RI Convention, can be traced back to the first decade of Rotary’s existence, when “He profits most who serves his fellows best and Service not self were both put forth as slogans. In 1989, the RI Council on Legislation designated “Service above Self” as the principal motto.

Rotary’s first emblem was a simple wagon wheel (in motion with dust) representing civilization and movement. It was designed in 1905 by Montague Bear, a member of the Chicago club, who was an engraver, and many Rotary clubs of the time adopted the wheel in one form or another.

In 1922, authority was given to create and preserve an official emblem, and the following year the present gear wheel with 24 cogs and six spokes was adopted. A keyway was added to signify that the wheel was a “worker and not an idler.” At the RI Convention in 1929, royal blue and gold were chosen as the official colors.

 

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