Founder Paul Harris

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"Personality has Power to Uplift, Power to Depress, Power to Curse, and Power to Bless." Paul P. Harris

Paul P. Harris, born in Racine, Wisconsin April 19, 1868 - spent his early years in Wallingford, Vermont, prior to attending the University of Vermont, Princeton University and the University of Iowa. Following his graduation from the law school of the University of Iowa in 1891 he spent the next five years seeing the world and in coming to know his fellow man before settling down to practice law in Chicago.

It was in 1900 when Paul Harris dined with a lawyer friend in Rogers Park, a residential section of Chicago. After dinner they took a walk and he was impressed by the fact that his friend stopped at several stores and shops in the neighborhood and introduced him to the proprietors, who were his friends. Paul Harris' law clients were business friends, not social friends, but this experience caused him to wonder why he couldn't make social friends out of at least some of his business friends - and he resolved to organize a club which would band together a group of representative business and professional men in friendship and fellowship.

"Harris an attorney who wished to capture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth."

For the next several years he devoted a great deal of time to reflection on conditions of life and business and, by 1905, he had formulated a definite philosophy of business relations. Talking it over with three of his law clients - Silvester Schiele, a coal merchant, Gustavus Loehr, a mining engineer, and Hiram Shorey, a merchant tailor - he decided, with them, to organize the club which he had been planning since 1900.

  • Paul Harris founded the world's first service club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, was formed on 23 February 1905
  • The first four Rotarians were: Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram Shorey, and Paul P. Harris

When Paul P. Harris convened the first Rotary meeting on 23 February it was in Room 711 of the Unity Building in Chicago. Paul Harris envisioned a professional club that would bring together men from a variety of vocations. The first Rotary members: Gustavus Loehr, Hiram Shorey, and Silvester Schiele attended this first meeting.

  • That first meeting set the groundwork for the world's first service club: the Rotary Club of Chicago
  • The Rotary name derived from the early practice of rotating meetings among members' offices

In 1907 The Rotary Club of Chicago performed its first act of community service. The club called a meeting of civic organizations to establish a committee for installing city comfort stations, or public toilets, to improve sanitation.

"In common with my fellow members, I had learned to place emphasis on the giving rather than the getting," Paul Harris later writes in his book This Rotarian Age

Paul Harris wished back in 1905 to capture in a professional club the same friendly spirit he had felt in the small towns of his youth. Today there is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian service and encourages high ethical standards in all vocations.

  • At the time of this writing in 2009 more than one million individuals have been recognized as Paul Harris Fellows - people who have given $1,000 to Rotary International Foundation's The Annual Programs Fund or have had that amount contributed in their name
  • With 1.2 million Rotarians belonging to over 32,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas
  • In 1989, the Rotary organization voted to admit women into clubs worldwide and now claims more than 145,000 female members in its ranks  

From the time when Paul Harris led The Rotary Club of Chicago's first act of community service back in 1907 Rotarians have taken an active role in their communities while greatly enriching their personal and professional lives.

When Paul P. Harris passed away on January 27, 1947, he was president emeritus of Rotary International. While Paul Harris devoted much of his time to Rotary, he was also prominent in civic and professional work. He was the first chairman of the board of the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults in the U.S.A. and of the International Society for Crippled Children. He was a member of the board of managers of the Chicago Bar Association and its representative at the International Congress of Law at The Hague, and he was a committee member of the American Bar Association.

Posted by John DiPasquali Source:,

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