The Start of Rotary

The Start of Rotary

The 23 February 1905 is celebrated as the anniversary of Rotary, the date which is generally regarded as the first ‘official’ meeting.

The founder, Paul Harris, and three others had been meeting regularly, but informally, for almost a year, and it was during this period that the concept of Rotary was discussed and developed – although the Founder Members could not have contemplated the international dimension that would quickly emerge from their original ideas.

These preliminary meetings led to the formalisation of a Rotary Club on that February day.

Paul Harris

Paul Harris was born in Racine, Wisconsin on 19 April 1868. However he was brought up by his father’s parents in Vermont. He graduated in Law from the University of Iowa City in 1891. For five years he toured the USA doing casual work until he arrived in Chicago where he eventually set up a law practice.

The idea of a ‘Club’ for camaraderie gradually formed in his mind, but it was not until 1904 that four men, Silvester Schiele, a coal dealer, Gus Loehr, a mining engineer, Hiram Shorey, a merchant tailor and Paul Harris began to meet and form the basis of the Rotary movement.

The first meeting

The four founder members met at the first ‘official’ meeting of Rotary in Room 711 in the Unity Building, Dearborn Street, Chicago. This was in the offices of Gus Loehr. The room is preserved as a memorial to this first meeting and is open to visitors who book in advance. At this meeting the basic format of Rotary was discussed.

Why Rotary?

For the first few months the meetings were called ‘The Booster Club’ since one of the main purposes of the group was to ‘boost’ business contacts. However, for a variety of reasons, the name ‘Rotary’ was suggested and adopted. The name ‘Rotary’ reflected the rotation of meeting venues, each member hosting a meeting in turn, chairing of each meeting was done in rotation and also, fundamental to the group, the ‘rotation’ of information for the mutual benefit of all members.

The Rotary Emblem

Within the first few months of the first Rotary Club being formed an emblem was adopted. It was suggested by Montague Bear, an engraver, that the emblem should be a wheel. He produced a drawing of a thirteen-spoked cartwheel and this was accepted as a suitable symbol for the Club. It is the basis of the official wheel emblem used today.

Rotary and the Community

Initially the Rotary Club of Chicago was set up for the benefit of its members. It soon became evident that such a group of people had the expertise, wherewithal and ability to benefit the Community of which they were a part. In 1907 the Club carried out its first Community Project, using its influence to provide some public toilets outside of Chicago City Hall.

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