The world’s first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, was formed on 23 February 1905 by Paul P. Harris, an attorney who wished to capture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. The Rotary name derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members’ offices.
Rotary’s popularity spread, and within a decade, clubs were chartered from San Francisco to New York to Winnipeg, Canada. By 1921, Rotary clubs had been formed on six continents. The organization adopted the Rotary International name a year later.
As Rotary grew, its mission expanded beyond serving club members’ professional and social interests. 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 motto: Service Above Self.
By 1925, Rotary had grown to 200 clubs with more than 20,000 members. The organization’s distinguished reputation attracted presidents, prime ministers, and a host of other luminaries to its ranks — among them author Thomas Mann, diplomat Carlos P. Romulo, humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, and composer Jean Sibelius.
Rotary and World War II
During World War II, many clubs were forced to disband, while others stepped up their service efforts to provide emergency relief to victims of the war. In 1942, looking ahead to the postwar era, Rotarians called for a conference to promote international educational and cultural exchanges. This event inspired the founding of UNESCO.
In 1945, 49 Rotary club members served in 29 delegations to the UN Charter Conference. Rotary still actively participates in UN conferences by sending observers to major meetings and covering the United Nations in its publications.
“Few there are who do not recognize the good work which is done by Rotary clubs throughout the free world,” former Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain once declared.
The Four-Way Test
In 1932, Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor created The Four-Way Test, a code of ethics adopted by Rotary 11 years later. The test, which has been translated into more than 100 languages, asks the following questions:
Of the things we think, say or do
Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Dawn of a new century
As it approached the 21st century, Rotary worked to meet society’s changing needs, expanding its service efforts to address such pressing issues as environmental degradation, illiteracy, world hunger, and children at risk.
In 1989, the organization voted to admit women into clubs worldwide and now claims more than 145,000 female members in its ranks.
After 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. The first Russian Rotary club was chartered in 1990, and the organization underwent a growth spurt for the next several years.
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.
Today, 1.2 million Rotarians belong to over 32,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.
Who We Are
AN ORGANIZATION OF BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL LEADERS • UNITED WORLDWIDE •
1.2 MILLION MEMBERS • MORE THAN 200 COUNTRIES AND GEOGRAPHICAL AREAS • PROVIDING HUMANITARIAN SERVICE •
BUILDING GOODWILL AND PEACE IN THE WORLD
The Object of Rotary
The Object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:
FIRST. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
SECOND. High ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations, and the dignifying of each Rotarian’s occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
THIRD. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian’s personal, business, and community life;
FOURTH. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.
Avenues of Service
Based on the Object of Rotary, the Avenues of Service are Rotary’s philosophical cornerstone and the foundation on which club activity is based:
Club Service focuses on strengthening fellowship and ensuring the effective functioning of the club.
Vocational Service encourages Rotarians to serve others through their vocations and to practice high ethical standards.
Community Service covers the projects and activities the club undertakes to improve life in its community.
International Service encompasses actions taken to expand Rotary’s humanitarian reach around the globe and to promote world understanding and peace.
The mission of Rotary International, a worldwide association of Rotary clubs, is to provide service to others, to promote high ethical standards, and to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through its fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.
Moving toward the future
In 2001-02, Rotary International began developing a strategic plan to guide the organization as it entered its second century of service. In June 2007, the Board of Directors approved the RI Strategic Plan 2007-10, which identifies seven priorities:
Advance the internal and external recognition and public image of Rotary.
Increase Rotary’s capacity to provide service to others.
Expand membership globally in both numbers and quality.
Emphasize Rotary’s unique vocational service commitment.
Optimize the use and development of leadership talents within RI.
Fully implement the strategic planning process to ensure continuity and consistency throughout the organization.