Rotary History in the USA

History of Rotary in the USA
From the Ziegler Collection 1 May 2011

Interim Section Chair is RGHF senior historian Basil Lewis, UK.

(Delegates from 16 Clubs at the first meeting of Rotary Clubs. 1910 Chicago USA)

1891-1896 Paul Harris, who was raised by his New England grandparents with values of tolerance toward all, gained his law degree in 1891. 1In his senior year, a former graduate told his class that they should "Go to a small town for five years make a fool of themselves, then go to the big city!" Paul decided to hit the road for the entire world. He worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, 1891; manual laborer on a fruit ranch, then raisin packing plant, teacher at the L.A. Business College in 1892. Denver, Colorado, 1892: Actor in a stock company, reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, cowboy, reporter for The Republican. Jacksonville, Florida: St. James Hotel night clerk, traveling granite/marble salesman 1892/93, reporter on the Washington Star, cattleman on a ship 1893, haymaker and cannery worker 1893, sub-foreman of the gang of cattlemen 1893, (where he wrote that, on his first voyage, he experienced sub-human conditions); orange picker in Florida 1893, back to Jacksonville selling marble granite. His territory included the southern states, Cuba, the Bahamas and Europe. When he announced that he was going to Chicago to practice law his employer said, "Whatever the advantages of settling in Chicago may be, I am satisfied you will make more money if you remain with me." To which Paul replied: "I am sure you are right but I am not going to Chicago for the purpose of making money; I am going for the purpose of living a life."

1896-1905 In 1896, he did go to Chicago to practice law. One evening, in 1900, Paul went with a professional friend to his suburban home. After dinner, as they strolled through the neighborhood, Paul's friend introduced him to tradesmen in their stores. This reminded Paul of his grandparent's home in New England. "Why not have a fellowship composed of businessmen from different occupations, without restrictions of politics or religion?" he thought.

1905-1908 2On February 23, 1905, Paul Harris had dinner with his closest friend, Chicago coal dealer Silvester Schiele. Afterwards they walked over the river to Room 711 of the Unity Building where they met their host, Gustavus Loehr, a mining engineer; and another friend, Hiram Shorey, a merchant tailor. Harris proposed that they form a club. No name was chosen for the group. The second meeting was March 9th. Three other men, Harry Ruggles, William Jenson, and A. L. White joined them. Ruggles was a printer, and created the "name badge" version of the Rotary "wheel" and also started singing in Rotary. In fact his singing kept the group from disbanding more than once. Paul Harris later wrote: "The significant occurrence of the second meeting was the introduction of Harry Ruggles, the printer. Harry was destined to play an important part in the life of the Chicago club, for through his suggestion of club singing his influence has been made felt by the entire movement." Paul P. Harris, page 95 "The Founder of Rotary 1928. Two weeks later the group gathered at the office of Silvester Schiele, in his coal yard at Twelfth and State Streets. Six of the previous seven were present along with Charles Newton and Arthur B. Irwin.

1908-1910 1Paul was very interested in starting Rotary in other cities. The second Rotary club was founded by Homer Wood in San Francisco in 1908. 7Wood then quickly organized Oakland #3 (When did weekly meetings begin? 6According to the general secretary in 1948, it was Oakland #3 in 1909.) Seattle #4 and Los Angeles #5. In fact, before the end of 1909, there were seven clubs, including New York City #6 and Boston #7. That's right, in 1908 and 1909, Homer Wood started four clubs. In the rest of the United States there were two, and the San Francisco club is credited, by some, with starting New York.

GROWTH OF ROTARY AROUND THE WORLD Paul Harris had a vision of "Around the World Rotary" which was also opposed by many of his fellow Rotarians. It was not until he won the loyalty of the man who was to be Rotary's secretary from 1910 – 1942 that Rotary became organized and international. That man was Chesley Perry, whom Paul called the "Builder of Rotary."

From by RGHF senior historian Basil Lewis, UK and Jack Selway, USA

See also Histories of the Districts of U.S.A.

The First Meeting
The First Club
The First 100 clubs (86 of which are in the US)

American Samoa


Puerto Rico

Virgin Islands of the U.S

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