Rotary History

Our 1.2 million-member organization started with the vision of one man—Paul P. Harris. The Chicago attorney formed one of the world’s first service organizations, the Rotary Club of Chicago, on 23 February 1905 as a place where professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. Rotary’s name came from the group’s early practice of rotating meetings among the offices of each member.


Rotarians have not only been present for major events in history—we’ve been a part of them. From the beginning, three key traits have remained strong throughout Rotary:
We’re truly international. Only 16 years after being founded, Rotary had clubs on six continents. Today we’re working together from around the globe both digitally and in-person to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems.
We persevere in tough times. During WWII, Rotary clubs in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Japan were forced to disband. Despite the risks, many continued to meet informally and following the war’s end, Rotary members joined to rebuild their clubs and countries.
Our commitment to service is ongoing. We began our fight against polio in 1979 with a project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. By 2012, only three countries remain polio-endemic—down from 125 in 1988.


Rotarians are your neighbors, your community leaders, and some of the world’s greatest history-makers:
Warren G. Harding, U.S. president
Jean Sibelius, Finnish composer
Dr. Charles H. Mayo, co-founder of Mayo Clinic
Guglielmo Marconi, Italian inventor of the wireless radio and Nobel laureate
Thomas Mann, German novelist and Nobel laureate
Friedrich Bergius, German chemist and Nobel laureate
Admiral Richard E. Byrd, American explorer
Jan Masaryk, foreign minister of Czechoslovakia
H.E. Soleiman Frangieh, president of Lebanon
Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator
Manny Pacquaio, Filipino world-champion boxer and congressman
Richard Lugar, U.S. senator
Frank Borman, American astronaut
Edgar A. Guest, American poet and journalist
Sir Harry Lauder, Scottish entertainer
Franz Lehar, Austrian composer
Lennart Nilsson, Swedish photographer
James Cash Penney, founder of JC Penney Co.
Carlos Romulo, UN General Assembly president
Sigmund Sternberg, English businessman and philanthropist

Club Leaders