Rotary started with the vision of one man — Paul Harris. The Chicago attorney formed the Rotary Club of Chicago on 23rd February 1905 so that professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships.
Over time, Rotary’s reach and vision gradually extended to humanitarian service. Members have a long track record of addressing challenges in their communities and around the world.
"Whatever Rotary may mean to us or to the world, it will be recognized by the outcome it achieves.” - Paul Harris, Founder of Rotary"
Our ongoing commitment
That commitment endures today through an organization that remains truly international. Only 16 years after being founded, Rotary had clubs on six continents. Our members now span the globe, working to solve some of our world’s most challenging problems.
We’re not afraid to dream big and set bold goals. We began our fight against polio in 1979 with a project to immunize 6 million children in the Philippines. Today, polio remains endemic in only two countries — down from 125 in 1988.
History still in the making
With every project, we are changing the world for the better. The following stories trace our evolution as an organization through historical documents, artifacts, and images that show how people and events shape Rotary.
Rotary’s two official mottoes
“Service Above Self” and “One Profits Most Who Serves Best” can be traced back to the early days of Rotary organization.
The roots of Rotary’s polio eradication efforts
In 1979, Rotary began a project to immunize six million children against polio in the Philippines. The effort’s success led to Rotary making polio eradication its top priority.
The start of Rotary in South America
Rotary’s global expansion began early. The chartering of the Rotary Club of Montevideo, Uruguay, in February 1919 brought Rotary to South America.