Rotary's First Days and the Years that Followed....
(By Past President Kern Wisman, 2012)
On the evening of February 23, 1905, a lawyer Paul Harris and three friends, Sylvester Schiele, Gustavus Loehr, and Hiram Shorey, met in Loehr's business office in downtown Chicago to discuss Paul's idea that businessmen should get together periodically for camaraderie and to enlarge their circle of business and professional acquaintances.
What he had in mind was a club that would 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.
The four businessmen didn't decide then and there to call themselves a Rotary club, but their first get-together was, in fact, the 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 name was agreed upon, one of the new members suggested a wagon wheel design as the club emblem. It was the precursor to the familiar cogwheel emblem now worn by Rotarians around the world. By the end of 1905, the club had grown to 30 members.
Rotary Wheel 1906
The second Rotary club was formed in 1908 half a continent away from Chicago in San Francisco, California. 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.
Today, Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide, who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. There are approximately 1.2 million Rotarians; members of more than 30,000 Rotary clubs in 161 countries.
Rotary Wheel 1910
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. A Rotary conference held in London in 1942 planted the seeds for the development of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and numerous Rotarians have served as consultants to the United Nations.
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.
At the present time, 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.
Rotary Wheel 1926
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 in 1989 and claims more than 90,000 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. Today, 1.2 million Rotarians belong to some 30,000 Rotary clubs in more than 161 countries.