Once there were four men. That is how Rotary began on February 23 1905, in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Paul P. Harris had invited three friends to explore his idea that had been developing for several years. The idea – a club of business and professional men who could and should be friends. Harris was a lawyer, his friends were a coal dealer, mining engineer, and merchant tailor. The aim of the first Rotary Club was the encouragement of friendship, fellowship and mutual assistance. It is significant that each of the members of the first Rotary Club was a comparative stranger from a small town who had come to that great metropolis of Chicago to go into business. Each felt a need for personal friendships to replace those severed by moving from their former homes.
The name “Rotary” was suggested by Harris, prompted by the original plan of the club members meeting in rotation at their various places of business. As the membership increased, it became necessary to hold dinner meetings, which later gave way to weekly, noonday meetings. Contrary to general opinion, although Paul Harris was the originator of Rotary, he was not the first president. That distinction went to Silvester Schiele, one of the original four. Paul Harris became the president of Chicago Club No. I in 1907. Also in 1907, the first Rotary community project was undertaken – the establishment of public comfort stations in Chicago’s City Hall.
Soon to follow was Club No. 2 in San Francisco, then Oakland, followed by Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Boston. The first Rotary Convention was held in 1910, in Chicago, with 29 members present, representing 14 of 16 organized Rotary Clubs. Like wildfire, the movement spread to Canada, England, Ireland, South America, the Philippines and into Asia. Today, the idea of Paul Harris and his friends has spread to 152 countries with over 1,206,000 members in over 27,400 clubs.
Statistics of Rotary’s tremendous worldwide growth are impressive, but Rotary’s accomplishments though the years defy expression in figures. The fellowship created, the improvement in the conduct of business and professions, the playgrounds provided, the crippled children helped, the student loans granted, the community betterment undertakings, the increased understanding among nations, the countless other achievements of Rotary Clubs, and the activities of The Rotary Foundation, all must be considered when viewing the progress of Rotary.