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Rotary started with the vision of one man — Paul Harris. The Chicago attorney formed the Rotary Club of Chicago on 23 February 1905, so 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, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves. 

Rotary founder

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.

Rotary's Timeline

Our 1.4 million members join community leaders, friends, and partners in a global network that is addressing challenges around the world.

Still making history

With every project, we’re changing the world for the better. The following stories trace our evolution as an organization through historical documents, artifacts, and images that show the people and events that shaped Rotary.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 the organization.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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Dive deeper into our archives

Rotary’s archives include tens of thousands of photos, recordings, publications, and artifacts that preserve our legacy. Are you conducting research? Members of Rotary, Rotary staff, and the public may visit the archives by appointment. Learn more about what we collect, what we can do for you, and how to schedule an appointment to examine our material.

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Ready to make history with us?