On February 23 in 1905, Chicago lawyer Paul P Harris called three friends to a meeting, his vision being to form a club that would encourage fellowship amongst members of the business community, an idea originating from his desire to find the kind of friendly spirit he had known in the villages where he had grown up. Little did the four businessmen know that they had created the first ever Rotary Club.
Word of the small club soon spread and other businessmen were invited to join and the name “Rotary” was derived from the early practice of rotating meetings amongst members’ offices.
Soon after the club name was agreed, one of the new members suggested a wagon wheel design for 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 half a continent away from Chicago in San Francisco, California. It was a much shorter leap across San Francisco Bay to Oakland, California, where the third club was formed. Others followed in Seattle, Washington, Los Angeles, California, and New York City, New York. Rotary became international in 1910 when a club was formed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
By 1921 the organisation was represented on every continent, and the name Rotary International was adopted in1922.
As Rotary grew, its focus shifted to community service and civic obligations. Early projects included building public ‘comfort stations’ near Chicago’s City Hall and delivering food to needy families.
Rotary had grown so large (nearly 200 clubs and more than 20,000 members) that it was divided into districts. During Rotary’s second decade, clubs were launched in South and Central America, India, Cuba, Europe, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
During World War 1, Rotary discovered new areas for serving communities – at home in war relief and in overseas emergency efforts. After World War II, many clubs that had disbanded during the war were re-established, initiating a new era for Rotary. Clubs in Switzerland and elsewhere organised relief efforts for refugees and prisoners of war. 49 Rotarians participated in the 1945 United Nations Charter Conference in San Francisco.
More history is available on the Rotary International website.
Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland – RIBI
Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1914. At this time, after Rotary had moved across the Atlantic to Great Britain and Ireland, the British Association of Rotary Clubs was formed. During World War 1, there was little contact between the international clubs and the British Association held the small number of Rotary clubs together in Great Britain, Ireland with a few other European communities. Following the war, a new Rotary regulation came into place whereby countries which had more than 25 clubs could apply to be a ‘territorial unit’ and be represented on the Rotary International board. The clubs in Great Britain were the only ones to apply and Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland (RIBI) was formed.
Shortly afterwards, the territorial unit concept was dropped, yet existing units were allowed to keep their rights and privileges. RIBI continues to function as an independent unit of Rotary International.