Rotary History Timeline

Rotary History Timeline
19 April 1868

Paul Percy Harris is born in Racine, Wisconsin to George H. and Cornelia E. Harris. There's evidence that his mother's side of the family had roots as far back as the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock.Paul Harris was only to live in Racine until the age of three as a result of his parents financial instability. George Harris had been largely supported by his own father, but it even that was not enough for the Paul's parents. Also see the 2012 RGHF Institute, Denver, for photos of Paul's parents' graves.



1870 Census. See lines 26-30

1868-1871 The most critical Paul Harris is of his parents is on page 8 of "The Founder of Rotary" in 1928. It explains why he was to leave their home in Racine and to be raised by his grandfather. He offers further explanation when he writes "My Road to Rotary" nearly 20 years later.
1871 Paul and his older brother Cecil are brought, by their father George Harris, to live with Paul's grand-parents, Howard and Pamela Rustin Harris in Wallingford, Vermont
1871-1888 Paul writes that his grandfather was a strong influence on his future life. Though he may have over indulged his own son, George, he appeared to be a remarkable parent to Paul. "Founder" page 19 "My Road to Rotary" page 208
Early 80's Expelled from Black River Academy, attended by Calvin Coolidge, then graduates from Vermont Academy.
1885 Enters the University of Vermont, only to be expelled. This time he is not at fault. Why does Harris not appeal the decision?
1888 While Paul is at Princeton, Howard Harris dies March 17th, 1888. Paul's grandfather had given him a road map for success in life. He had taught him one thing above all else. "Tolerance"
1890 Paul entered the law department of the University of Iowa in the Autumn of 1890. When word came that his beloved grandmother had died, there was no time to return to Wallingford for the funeral. His ties to family were virtually cut.
1891 Paul gains his law degree and hears a former law student tell his class, "Go to a small town and make a fool of yourself for five years, then go to the big city." Instead Paul gave himself five years to see the world as a reporter, actor, cowboy, seaman, granite salesman, fruit picker and hotel clerk.
1896 Harris arrives in Chicago and starts the practice of law. He becomes one of Chicago's outstanding attorneys. An early client is a man named Silvester Schiele who needed an attorney to collect a $10.00 debt owed to him. He becomes one of Chicago's outstanding attorneys with a thriving law office. Due to ill health he no longer practices law after the early 1930's. But the firm of Harris, Dodds and Brownwent on for many years and the succeeding law firm has the same phone number yet today.
1900 Invited to dinner by a fellow attorney, Bob Franks, Paul Harris is inspired to start an organization where men of different professions could gather in fellowship. He spends some five years considering this possibility.
How Rotary really started, in the words of Paul Harris, Founder of Rotary, recorded on 20 December 1945
23 February


Thursday evening,  23 February 1905 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. 37 year old attorney Paul P. Harris, fresh from a wild five years footloose and four years building a successful law practice, had an idea... It was regarding observations of success and respect which could come from organizing professional acquaintances. Five more years past. He had given this much thought by the time he and Silvester Schiele (right) walked over to Gus Loehr's office, in Room 711 that cold winter night in 1905, almost 9 years from his arrival in Chicago. 
1905 Gus Loehr, whom Harris describes as a "promoter" had invited a tailor, Hiram Shorey, (right) to join the other two men. Neither Loehr nor Shorey remained more than a few weeks with the new organization. However, Room 711 is still recognized as the birthplace of our world wide movement.
1905 Harris had several other names, among them another friend, Harry Ruggles, a printer. Harry, known for his singing, is also the "fifth" Rotarian.

Harris had discussed the idea of such an organization with both Schiele and and Ruggles.

1906-1907 Correspondence with a friend in Florida

1905 Several weeks later, Schiele was elected the first president of Rotary as a courtesy since the meeting was held in his office. Harris suggested several names, one of them being "Rotary."
1908 Paul Harris sends a former roommate, Manuel Munoz, to seek out an interested businessman when he travels to San Francisco to represent his company. Homer Wood, (right) a San Francisco attorney was just that person. He became responsible for much of Rotary on the West Coast and even clubs on the East Coast.
1908 Arthur Sheldon and Chesley Perry (right) both joined the Chicago club in 1908. Sheldon created the classification system and penned "He Profits Most Who Serves Best." Harris describes his understanding of Sheldon's philosophy. Meantime, not everyone in the Chicago club was in favor of "extension" which may have taken up too much of their meeting time. Ches Perry is appointed head of the extension committee in hopes he will stop Harris' foolishness, particularly of "World Round Rotary."

How important was the Harris - Perry relationship?

In the mid 1940's Paul wrote: "I realized the necessity of doing one of two things, either losing entirely the sympathy of the Chicago club or converting the newly appointed chairman of the extension committee to the broader viewpoint.


So it came about that I called Ches by phone one Sunday when he had ample time to talk. During the course of the interview, Ches asked me the question: 'Why do you think, Paul, that the Chicago club is as nothing compared with what you have in mind?


    I don't know how I answered but I considered the situation desperate and fired all of my broadsides in defense of my idea. Ches said little at the time but what he did say was enough. When I hung up the receiver, I felt convinced that I had won a friend to the cause. Shortly thereafter he and I, with the help of others, planned the formation of an association of the then existing clubs. Ches took the laboring oar in outlining and organizing the first convention of Rotary clubs." Paul P. Harris, from Chapter 35 "My Road to Rotary"

(Harris and Perry in 1923, left)



Harris is elected the first president of the newly formed "National Association of Rotary Clubs" meeting in Chicago, 15-17 August, with sixteen clubs in Rotary. Paul Harris served two terms.


1910 He was a founding member of the Prairie Club of Chicago. On one of the club's early hikes a beautiful young woman from Edinburgh, Scotland points out a tear in his jacket and offers to fix it. Jean Thomson was the woman's name. 2 July 1910, Paul Harris marries Jean Thomson

In two years he bought her a large home and they named their home after a road in Edinburgh, "
Comely Bank." There they started their life longfriendship garden. The Chicago home is being preserved by Rotarians in the 21st Century.
1911 Harris is elected for a second term as president at the convention in Portland. 15 new clubs had joined the ranks of NARC. Many others were organized and "doing" business as those in the United Kingdom were.

June 3rd of that year, he sends a letter to the Dallas club asking if they intend to be a "secret" organization.

1912 Paul and secretary Ches Perry learn that former San Francisco Rotarian, Stuart Morrow, has returned to his home in Ireland and is independently organizing Rotary clubs.
1912 Paul Harris is named President emeritus as 50 Clubs meet in Duluth with delegates from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and the organization becomes "The International Association of Rotary Clubs."  Also that year he suffers aserious heart attack. General secretary Ches Perry provides one of the best descriptions of Harris' health at the1947 convention, in San Francisco
1913 The 1913 convention saw Glen Mead become the second president of Rotary. Paul Harris did not attend,but his leadership was felt.
1914 For the February 1914 issue of The Rotarian, Harris write an article entitled, "The Distant Sense." The article was about ethics in business.
1915 Paul Harris sent a message to the 1915 convention in San Francisco with a concern about Rotary.
1916 He did not attend the 7th convention in Cincinnati, but sent a message regarding the growth of Rotary.
1917 War breaks out in Europe and Harris sends a message to the Atlanta convention. Arch Klumph talks about an "endowment." In February of that year, Paul writes a "12th Anniversary" message to Rotarians.
1918 Harris' letter to the Kansas City convention stresses methods for getting Rotary into the general public.
1919 The First World War continues and Paul Harris' letter to the convention in Salt Lake City is about the pain of war and Rotary role in peace.
1919 Paul Harris' mother, Cornelia Bryan Harris dies in Denver, Colorado. Paul had spent very little time with his parents who never seemed to be able to keep their family together. It was Paul's grandfather whose quiet generosity maintained his parents. Paul's father, George, never very successful in life, is vigilant as his wife's caretaker at the end of her life. Also see the 2012 RGHF Institute, Denver, for photos of Paul's parents' graves.
1920 Paul's message to the Atlantic City convention stresses the "service way."
1921 Rotary's first convention away from the continent of its birth. Edinburgh, the birthplace of Paul's wife Jean Thomson Harris, yet Paul's health would not allow the trip. His impassion speech, was read, as usual, by long time general secretary Ches Perry.

"First time across the sea... Yesterday, Rotary was a child..."   "God grant that Rotary be clean and free from the corrupting influences of politics."  "The power of Rotary is friendship... Friendship means peace."

1922 Los Angeles hosted the 13th convention and Harris wrote about the expanding international aspects.
1923 U.S. president Warren G. Harding addresses the 8,000 Rotarians in St. Louis. It was his last major speech, dying a month later. Harris writes in his address about "service over wealth" and stresses the importance of our exclusive representation as a reason or our success.
1924 Harris sends a greeting to Toronto
1925 A short message to the Cleveland convention. Silvester Schiele does attend.
1926 Harris sends a message, saying among other things, that Rotary had "reached its majority" being now 21 years old. The convention was in Denver where his father would die that same year.
1926 At the age of 84, George Harris, Paul's father, dies in Denver, Colorado. Having finally inherited his mother's estate George had been able to continue his life's practice of inventions and schemes that never succeeded. Paul Harris wrote that he cherished one fond memory of how his father cared for his mother in her final years.

We as Rotarians, should be thankful to Paul's grandfather, Howard Harris and his grandmother,Pamela Harris without whom there is little doubt Paul's own genius would not have found its "Road to Rotary."

1927 The first convention on the European continent was in Ostende, Belgium. Vivian Carter, secretary of R.I.B.I. read Harris' speech.

“The three generals in command of the destructive forces are: Suspicion Jealousy and Fear.

Let us stimulate and encourage the constructive forces and place in their command, the three greatest generals the world has ever known: Faith Love and Courage.”

1928 Paul was traveling in Europe as a delegate of an Illinois bar association at the time of the Minneapolis convention, but sent a short message.

Paul Harris' signature is all that is seen on the cover of his 1928 autobiography "The Founder of Rotary," with a forward by RI General Secretary Chesley R. Perry. The entire book is online to be read or printed

1928 Harris' tour of Europe, as a delegate of his bar association, is described in his personal journal. He also visited many Rotary clubs in England and Europe during this trip.

Also, a summary of his speeches to clubs during that trip where he answers some of the critics of Rotary.

1929 Ches Perry announced at the Dallas convention, that the Rotary Foundation was well under way. Paul Harris' message took up a sporting theme -entitled - The Big Game is On. Paul asked Rotarians - What will your batting average be? And Have you learned the rules of the game?
1930 Harris attends the 1930, "Silver Anniversary" convention, in Chicago. His first convention since leaving office in 1912.. He was not expected due to his health. However, he surprised the nearly 10,000 in attendance and delivered his message in person for the first time in 30 years!
1930's After Harris' death in 1947, Ches Perry, then retired, attended the San Francisco convention to deliver a memorial to his former boss. In this copy of a portion of that speech he talks about Paul's illness and the board's invitation to visit clubs around the world when his health recovered in the mid-1930's.
1931 Paul's letter to the Vienna, Austria convention talks about the new ideas of Rotary coming from "young counties" to "older countries" in Europe and also about the great depression.
1932 World conflict is again on the rise. The secretariat has moved to new offices. There's a heated debate about allowing more than one club in a city. And, the convention chairman reads Paul Harris' speech to the Seattle convention.
1932 Paul Harris' unpublished diary of his journey to Europe in 1932, during which time he planted "Friendship Trees" in many European cities.

The final summary of the journal was about patriotism.


Paul Harris "on the air" speaks to non-Rotarians, who he says may be "Rotarians in their hearts."Hear Paul Here!  In 1933, Rotary International held its 24th convention in Boston, MA, USA.  Harris attended remaining active as president emeritus. During the convention, a radio broadcast was arranged heard "around the world" and addressed to "non-Rotarians." General secretary Chesley R. Perry introduced Harris who told his audience " Friends of the air" that if they have "Love of 'men' in their heart," then they are potential Rotarians! Now you can listen to a recording of this famous broadcast.

1934 Harris attends two conventions in a row and again is on the Radio, this time from the Detroit convention, where he receives the Boy Scouts of America's highest award. The ceremony is broadcast to the host community.
1934 In 1934, Harris writes the first in a series for The Rotarian by presidents. Harris writes "A Road I have Traveled" about his 29 years in Rotary.

Also, in 1934, Harris wrote an introduction to a book about Jim Davidson, who was often referred to as the "Paul Harris" of India and other far flung parts of the Rotary world.

1934 Paul Harris makes trip to England and South Africa. There is a very important meeting with R.I.B.I with importance still today. Then on for a round of meetings in South Africa. His journal is online.

While in London, during the 1934 trip, Paul hears of a letter which may have political undertones. His comments are contained in an article.

1935 His health improved enough to travel, Harris attends the Mexico City convention and again broadcasts on the radio. It is his third consecutive convention and the Harris' are now traveling around the world. Harris, though, must sometimes, cancel appearances due to exhaustion.
1935 Peregrinations II. Paul writes a statement of international philosophy from Parramatta, Australia. Along the way they plant many of theFriendship Trees, now on display as part of our fellowship.

While in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1936, Paul wrote his thoughts on the planting of trees.

1935 Paul Harris writes his second autobiography, "This Rotarian Age" this time mostly about the evolution of Rotary in the first 30 years of the organization.

"At last, we have the story of Rotary by its Founder, Paul P. Harris. It is not merely a recital of what happened in 1905 or the years immediately following. It is an interesting story of Rotary — of yesterday, of today, and of tomorrow" From the book's forward by general secretary Ches Perry

1935 In his 1935 text of Rotary's past, present and future he also writes about his health. He describes what he terms a "nervous breakdown" sometime in the early 1930's. He leaves one copy of his book with a thank you message to the family who gave him a place to rest while he was writing "This Rotarian Age." (There is a section devoted to signatures of some interest such a check written in later years to his only sister.)
1935 Also, in 1935, Harris makes a rare attendance at a Rotary convention. This one in Mexico City. Harris told of how it was a joy to meet friends in unaccustomed places. "God must have loved mankind when he created friends for them", he told his audience.

Also, for the 30th Anniversary of Rotary, Paul Harris wrote: Rotary is 30 Years Old

1936 Paul Harris did not attend the Atlantic City convention as he and Jean Harris were still visiting Rotarians in South America but his Convention Message was read out by his old friend Silvester Schiele.
1936 Paul and Jean travel, again, at the invitation of the board of directors, to Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Harris writes about the travels, but continues to record his philosophy of Rotary's power for peace.  They also plant many more Friendship Trees.  The travels are published as Peregrinations III and, as with Peregrinations II, the publication is copyright by Jean Harris.
1937 Returned from their South American travels, Harris crosses the Atlantic, is made an officer of the French Foreign Legion and then speaks to the Rotary convention in Nice, France.

Paul received many decorations and belonged to numerous organizations

1938 At the 1938 San Francisco convention, general secretary Ches Perry suggested contributions to the Rotary Foundation rather than birthday cards for Paul Harris' 70th Birthday.
1939 At age 71, Paul attended the 30th convention in Cleveland and spoke of Rotary's power for peace, as war loomed.
1940 Harris' health would not allow the trip to Cuba for the Rotary Convention there. Years earlier, Paul had wondered if Rotary could take hold in a non English speaking country. Havana, though not active now, was the first such club.
1941 Both Paul and his wife Jean attended the convention in Denver, the former home of his parents.
1941 Paul and Jean attend a business exposition at Rotary Club of Chicago and present some of Paul's own artwork.
1942 Again Paul and Jean were present in Toronto and both spoke. He said the war was to preserve civilization. At that convention, Ches Perry ended 32 years as the first secretary general and the only Rotarian with a perfect convention attendance record.
1943 Jean and Paul were together for a third year and both spoke in St. Louis.  Harris was now 75.


The Rotarian magazine paid a visit to their home

1944 403 were all that attended the Chicago convention that year, but Paul Harris made his fourth appearance in a row and received an award from the Dominican Republic.
1945 In 1945 the United Nations charter was signed in San Francisco. Rotarians were involved in the organization and remain so today. Paul Harris explains, in "My Road to Rotary" how this came to be.
1945 We have no record of Paul Harris attending the second Chicago "war" convention. However, there was a memorial to Paul's friend, and 32 year RI treasurer and fellow Chicago Rotarian, Rufus Chapin, who had died that year.
1946 No doubt the 1946 convention in Atlantic City was saddened by the passing of Silvester Schiele, the first president of a Rotary club. He was also one of Paul's earliest clients, close friend and neighbor. At the next convention, in San Francisco, there would be the memorial to the first president of a "Rotary Association."
1946 As he is writing "My Road to Rotary" Harris describes the "Friendship Trees" and war.

Months before his death and in ill health, Paul is asked by Leland Case, editor of The Rotarian, to write a "routine" articlefor the coming February anniversary of Rotary. It is believed to be his last published writing.

27 January


After a many years of ill health, but continuing to write for the Rotarian Magazine, Rotary founder Paul Harris dies

 | Chicago Tribune obituary  |

| Day of his death/Service |

 | Tributes from presidents Hedke, Warren, Mead and GS Perry

| His gravesite has become a memorial

1947 Cover of The Rotarian honors Harris

1947 Just as Vivian Carter, the second editor of The Rotarian is completing a book about Rotary in London, he learns of the death of his friend Paul Harris. He writes a very revealing tribute.
1947 The San Francisco convention saw the return of retired general secretary Chesley R. Perry to deliver the memorial for his former boss Paul Harris. It was Harris, in 1908 who had called Perry on a Sunday afternoon and managed to convince Perry to help him.

the third book and second autobiography, written by Paul P. Harris is published. The first editionincluded 14 pages of highlights from 1905 - 1948. These were written for the publisher A. Kroch and Son, by Rotary International under the direction of Rotary's second General Secretary, Philip Lovejoy.  In this book you'll hear Paul tell how Rotary came to be. How he became the person who had the vision to create this great movement. It is the only way to understand the values of Rotary from the man who taught them. 

1952 Harry Ruggles, the Fifth Rotarian writes an article for The Rotarian about his long time friend and fellow Rotarian, "The Paul Harris that I Knew."
1957 The "Paul Harris Fellow" designation (later to become "Paul Harris Fellow Recognition" was created in 1957 to recognize the gift of US$1,000 to The Rotary Foundation. There were also several other awards, including ones for $500 and $100, but they were subsequently discontinued.

See our article by PRIP Cliff Dochterman


"Paul Harris will forever be remembered as the founder of Rotary International.

This account of his life, the first to be published, makes fascinating reading and marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Rotary, which today has nearly one million members in more than 150 countries."  James P. Walsh

Paul Harris in Space
Today There are many memorials to Paul Harris, the greatest is "Rotary" itself and becoming a Paul Harris Fellow and knowing that every dollar of that investment will go to an effort to bring goodwill and understanding to our world.

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