Brief History of Rotary



The Rotary Emblem is a trademark owned by Rotary International and is protected throughout the world.  The words "Rotary" and "Rotary Club", and the Rotary emblem are trademarks of Rotary International registered in over 60 countries and this number increases every year.  Rotary's early emblem was a simple wagon wheel.  It was designed in 1905, the year the first Rotary Club was organized in Chicago.  The designer was Montague M. Bear, a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago who was an engraver.  He designed the emblem to represent both civilization and movement.  Most of the early Rotary clubs adopted the wheel in one form or another. Many clubs added features which identified their club with their city, such as a buffalo for Buffalo, N.Y.; a giant oak tree for Oakland, California etc.  In 1910 there were 16 Rotary Clubs and there were as many designs! Over time, it was noted that the wheel was unworkable, it had no keyway and without a keyway, the gear was not capable of transmitting power to or from the shaft. 

Finally, the present emblem shown above which includes 24 cogs and six spokes and was adopted in 1924.  The keyway was added to signify usefulness.  An official description of the emblem was adopted at the 1929 International Convention.  The Rotary wheel is our key emblem of "SERVICE ABOVE SELF" and service throughout the world. 


Paul Harris and Founders



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 organization 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 I, 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 at the following address:

(Above history obtained from website   


Rotary is an organization of business and professional persons united worldwide who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world. Our motto is "Service Above Self" symbolized by our emblem, the Rotary wheel. 

Rotary International is one of the world's oldest and largest service organizations.  It was started in 1905 by Paul Harris in Chicago and currently has 1.2 million members in 30,000 clubs located in 166 countries.   Rotary clubs exist to improve communities locally and around the world.  Rotary encourages high ethical standards in business and professions.  Rotary clubs work to advance international understanding by partnering with clubs in other countries. Our mission is to improve communities through a range of humanitarian, intercultural and educational activities. Rotary also encourages high ethical standards in all vocations.

What do Rotary clubs do? 
Rotary clubs address critical issues at home and abroad by providing health care and medical supplies, clean water, food, job training, youth development, and education to millions of people in need.

Examples of Rotary’s focus areas include the following:

Polio Eradication - In 1985, Rotary International created PolioPlus – a program to immunize all the world’s children against polio. To date, Rotary has contributed US$800 million and countless volunteer hours to the protection of more than two billion children in 122 countries. Rotary is currently working to raise an additional US$200 million toward a US$355 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These efforts are providing much needed polio vaccine, operational support, medical personnel, laboratory equipment and educational materials for health workers and parents. In addition, Rotary has played a major role in decisions by donor governments to contribute over $4 billion to the effort. With its community-based network worldwide, Rotary is the volunteer arm of the global partnership dedicated to eradicating polio. Rotary volunteers assist in vaccine delivery, social mobilization and logistical help in cooperation with the national health ministries, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Peace - In an effort to educate tomorrow’s peacemakers and ambassadors, up to 110 Rotary World Peace Fellows are sponsored each year to study at one of the eight universities for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution. Since 2002, 339 fellows from over 75 countries have participated at a cost of more than $23 million.

International Education - Rotary is the world’s largest privately-funded source of international scholarships. Each year, about 1,000 university students receive Rotary scholarships to study abroad. Rotary clubs also coordinate a high school-age student exchange program that has sent nearly 8,000 students abroad for three months to a year.

Humanitarian Projects - Rotary clubs initiate thousands of humanitarian service projects every year. These volunteer-driven projects address the root causes of conflict, such as hunger, poverty, disease and illiteracy.

Literacy - Rotary clubs work to improve literacy rates worldwide. A unique, Rotary-pioneered approach called the Concentrated Language Encounter (CLE) has proven very effective in resource-strapped developing countries. It was so successful in Thailand, that the Thai government adopted the program nationwide.

Water Management - Recognizing the importance of clean water, many Rotary clubs help to install wells and develop water treatment and distribution systems to increase access to fresh drinking water for communities in need, especially in developing countries.

Learn more about Rotary International by visiting  

Learn more about Rotary District 7090  (Southern Ontario and Western New York) by visiting 

Thank you for visiting the website of the Rotary E-Club of SOWNY at