Rotary members have been addressing challenges around the world since 1905.

Rotary links over 1.4 million members to form an organization of international scope. It started with the vision of one man — Paul Harris. The Chicago attorney formed the Rotary Club of Chicago on 23 February 1905, so professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas, form meaningful, lifelong friendships, and give back to their communities.

Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of its members.

"Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves."

Rotary Founder


Rotary's founder Paul  Harris in his private office at the Law Offices of Harris, Dodds, and Brown in Chicago in 1909.
The first four Rotarians: Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram Shorey, and Paul P. Harris. 
This picture was taken between 1905 - 1912 in Chicago.
The first six Presidents of Rotary International at the 1939 Rotary convention in Cleveland, OH, USA.  Front row: Paul P. Harris & Glenn C. Mead. Back row: Russsell F. Greiner, Frank L. Mulholland, Allen D. Albert, & Arch C. Klumph.
Rotary members have not only been present for major events in history — we’ve also been a part of them.
Three key traits have remained strong throughout our history:
  • We’re truly international. Only 16 years after being founded, Rotary had clubs on six continents. Today, members in nearly every country work to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems.
  • We persevere in tough times. During World War II, Rotary clubs in Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain were forced to disband. Despite the risks, many continued to meet informally, and after the war, Rotary members came together to rebuild their clubs and their countries.
  • We’re committed to service, and we’re not afraid to dream big and set bold goals. We began our fight against polio in 1979 with a project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. Today, polio remains endemic in only two countries — down from 125 in 1988.


Was the first amount donated to The Rotary Foundation in 1917.


Was the first gift from The Rotary Foundation to the International
Society for Crippled Children in 1930

Our Ongoing Commitment

Rotary will continue to grow, exchange ideas, form meaningful, lifelong friendships, and give back to help others locally and around the world.


Moments in Rotary History

Rotary's Historical Timeline
Our 1.4 million members join community leaders, friends, and partners in a global network that is addressing challenges around the world.
It started with the vision of one man—Paul Harris. The Chicago attorney formed the Rotary Club of Chicago in 1905 to exchange ideas and form meaningful friendships. He saw Rotary as a force for ethical leadership, civic service, and peace—ideals he would promote throughout his life.   Photo credit:

Rotary at the start of the United Nations

Rotary and the United Nations have a shared history of working toward peace and addressing humanitarian issues around the world.

During World War II, Rotary informed and educated members about the formation of the United Nations and the importance of planning for peace. Materials such as the booklet “From Here On!” and articles in The Rotarian helped members understand the UN before it was formally established and follow its work after its charter. 
After the UN was established (in 1945), the 95-page booklet “From Here On!” contained the exact text of the UN Charter on one side of every two-page spread with annotations and questions designed to stimulate discussion on the other. With this layout, Rotarians could use it to learn and lead club discussions.  Photo credit:
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