Rotary started with the vision of one man, Paul Harris.
How it Started
After setting up his law practice in Chicago, Harris gathered several business associates to discuss the idea of forming an organisation for local professionals. He envisioned a place where professionals of diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships.
On 23 February 1905, Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram Shorey gathered at Loehr’s office in Room 711 of the Unity Building in downtown Chicago. This was the first Rotary club meeting.
The members chose the name Rotary because initially they rotated subsequent weekly club meetings to each other’s offices, although within a year, the Chicago club became so large it became necessary to adopt the now-common practice of a regular meeting place.
In February 1907, Harris was elected the third president of the Rotary Club of Chicago, a position he held until the fall of 1908. Toward the end of his club presidency, Harris worked to expand Rotary beyond Chicago. Some club members resisted, not wanting to take on the additional financial burden. But Harris persisted and by 1910 Rotary had expanded to several other major U.S. cities.
Harris died on 27 January 1947 in Chicago at age 78 after a prolonged illness. His death prompted an outpouring of contributions from around the world and his name continues to evoke the passion and support of Rotarians and friends of Rotary.
The first four Rotarians
Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram Shorey, and Paul Harris.
Service Above Self and One Profits Most Who Serves Best, Rotary’s official mottoes, can be traced back to the early days of the organization.
In 1911, the second Rotary convention, in Portland, Oregon, USA, approved He Profits Most Who Serves Best as the Rotary motto. The wording was adapted from a speech that Rotarian Arthur Frederick Sheldon delivered to the first convention, held in Chicago the previous year. Sheldon declared that “only the science of right conduct toward others pays. Business is the science of human services. He profits most who serves his fellows best.”
The Portland gathering also inspired the motto Service Above Self. During an outing on the Columbia River, Ben Collins, president of the Rotary Club of Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, talked with Seattle Rotarian J.E. Pinkham about the proper way to organize a Rotary club, offering the principle his club had adopted: Service, Not Self. Pinkham invited Rotary founder Paul Harris, who also was on the trip, to join their conversation. Harris asked Collins to address the convention, and the phrase Service, Not Self was met with great enthusiasm.
At the 1950 Rotary International Convention in Detroit, Michigan, USA, two slogans were formally approved as the official mottoes of Rotary: He Profits Most Who Serves Best and Service Above Self.
The 1989 Council on Legislation established Service Above Self as the principal motto of Rotary because it best conveys the philosophy of unselfish volunteer service. He Profits Most Who Serves Best was modified to They Profit Most Who Serve Best in 2004 and to its current wording, One Profits Most Who Serves Best, in 2010.
Arthur Frederick Sheldon, the Rotarian whose convention speech inspired Rotary’s secondary motto, One Profits Most Who Serves Best.