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Rotary's History

 
Our 1.2 million-member organisation started with the vision of one man—Paul P. Harris.
 
The Chicago attorney formed one of the world’s first service organisations, 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.
 

History of the Rotary Foundation

At the 1917 convention, outgoing Rotary International President Arch C. Klumph proposed to set up an endowment “for the purpose of doing good in the world.”

In 1928, it was renamed The Rotary Foundation, and became a distinct entity within Rotary International. A year later, the Foundation made its first gift of $500 to the International Society for Crippled Children.

When Rotary founder Paul Harris died in 1947, contributions began pouring into Rotary International, and the Paul Harris Memorial Fund was created to build the Foundation.

Since the first donation of $26.50 in 1917, the Foundation has received contributions totalling more than $1 billion.
 

The Foundation through time

1947 The Foundation establishes its first programme Fellowships for Advanced Study, later known as Ambassadorial Scholarships.
1965-66 Three programmes are launched: Group Study Exchange, Awards for Technical Training, and Grants for Activities in Keeping with the Objective of The Rotary Foundation, which was later called Matching Grants.
1978 Rotary introduces the Health, Hunger and Humanity (3-H) Grants. The first 3-H Grant fund a project to immunise six million Philippine children against polio.
1985 The PolioPlus program is launched to eradicate polio worldwide.
1987-88      The first peace forums are held, leading to Rotary Peace Fellowships.
2013 New district, global, and packaged grants enable Rotarians from around the globe to respond to the world’s greatest needs.
 

Our ongoing commitment

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 together to rebuild their clubs and their countries.
 
Our commitment to service is ongoing. We began our fight against polio in 1979 with a project to immunise 6 million children in the Philippines. By 2012, only three countries remain polio-endemic—down from 125 in 1988.
 

Notable Rotarians

Rotarians are your neighbours, 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
 
Ready to make history with us? Get involved. 
 

“Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.” — Paul P. Harris