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History of Rotary


On Feb. 23, 1905, the airplane had not yet stayed aloft for more than a few minutes, the first motion picture theater had not yet opened, Norway and Sweden were peacefully terminating their union and a Chicago lawyer, Paul P. Harris, called three friends to a meeting.

Paul Harris had in mind 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 that day to call themselves a Rotary club, but their get-together was, in fact, 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 in San Francisco, California. The third club was organized just across the Bay in Oakland and others soon followed in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City.

Rotary became international in 1910 when a club was formed in Winnipeg, Canada. By 1921, the organization was represented on every continent and the name Rotary International was adopted in 1922.

In 1917, Rotary International President Arch C. Klumph proposed an endowment fund “for the purpose of doing good in the world.” The fund received its first contribution of $26.50 from the Rotary Club of Kansas City, MO. The fund was the precursor to The Rotary Foundation, a not-for-profit philanthropic corporation that supports Rotary International.

In 1945, a group of 49 Rotarians helped to draft the United Nations Charter. Rotary International was granted adviser status at the UN Charter Conference. Rotarians provided translation and dispute-resolution services to attendees. Rotary’s early involvement with the UN set the stage for future partnerships with UN agencies.

The Rotary Foundation funded the first Health, Hunger and Humanity (3-H) Grant in 1979. It was a project to immunize six million Philippine children against polio. RI President James L. Bomar signed an agreement with the Philippine government to begin immunization and administered the first drops of vaccine to a Philippine child. The grant set the stage for Rotary’s decades-long commitment to the eradication of polio — the PolioPlus program.

On May 4, 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Rotary International may not exclude women from membership based on gender and hundreds of women across the United States were admitted to Rotary. In 1989, the Council on Legislation voted to eliminate the requirement that club membership be limited to males, permitting clubs worldwide to admit women.

Rotary celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005 at the centennial convention in Chicago. Clubs commemorated the centennial by launching hundreds of community service projects and contributing thousands of volunteer hours. The Rotary Club of Columbia founded the Loan Closet that still exists.

Rotary Motto and Objectives

Service Above Self has been the Rotary motto for many years and is the objective of all Rotary clubs.


Other Rotary objectives include:

• Developing acquaintances as an opportunity for service.
• Holding high ethical standards in business and recognizing the worthiness of all useful occupations as opportunities to serve society.
• Applying the ideal of service by every Rotarian to his or her personal, business and community life.
• Advancing international understanding, good will and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional people united in the ideal of


4-Way Test Is the Heart of Rotary

One of the most widely printed and quoted statements of business ethics in the world is the Rotary 4-Way Test. The 4-Way Test was created by Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor in 1932 when he was asked to take charge of a company that was facing bankruptcy. Taylor looked for a way to save the struggling company mired in depression-caused financial difficulties. He drew up a 24-word code of ethics for all employees to follow in their business and professional lives.

The 4-Way Test became the guide for sales, production, advertising and all relations with dealers and customers, and the survival of the company is
credited to this simple philosophy.

The 4-Way Test was adopted by Rotary in 1943 and has been translated into more than a hundred languages and published in thousands of ways. Taylorbecame president of Rotary International in 1954–55.

Of the things we think, say or do:


  • Is it the Truth?

  • Is it fair to all Concerned?

  • Will it build good will and better Friendships?

  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned


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