What is Rotary?

Rotary International is one of the largest service organizations in the world. The mission of Rotary, as stated on its website, is to “provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace through [the] fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders”.[1] It is a non-political and non-religious organization.[2] Membership is by application or invitation and based on various social factors. There are over 46,000[3] member clubs worldwide, with a membership of 1.4 million individuals, known as Rotary members.[4


The first Rotary Club was formed when attorney Paul P. Harris called together a meeting of three business acquaintances in downtown Chicago, United States, at Harris’s friend Gustave Loehr‘s office in the Unity Building on Dearborn Street on February 23, 1905.[5][6] In addition to Harris and Loehr (a mining engineer and freemason[7]), Silvester Schiele (a coal merchant), and Hiram E. Shorey (a tailor) were the other two who attended this first 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.

The next four Rotary Clubs were organized in cities in the western United States, beginning with San Francisco,[8] then OaklandSeattle,[9] and Los Angeles.[10] The National Association of Rotary Clubs in America was formed in 1910.[11][12] On November 3, 1910, a Rotary club began meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, marking the beginning of Rotary as an international organization.[13] On 22 February 1911, the first meeting of the Rotary Club Dublin was held in Dublin, Ireland.[14] This was the first club established outside of North America. In April 1912, Rotary chartered the Winnipeg club marking the first establishment of an American-style service club outside the United States.[15][16]: 45  To reflect the addition of a club outside of the United States, the name was changed to the International Association of Rotary Clubs in 1912.[17]

In August 1912, the Rotary Club of London received its charter from the Association, marking the first acknowledged Rotary club outside North America. It later became known that the Dublin club in Ireland was organized before the London club, but the Dublin club did not receive its charter until after the London club was chartered.[citation needed] During World War I, Rotary in Britain increased from 9 to 22 clubs,[18] and other early clubs in other nations included those in Cuba in 1916, the Philippines in 1919 and India in 1920.

In 1922, the name was changed to Rotary International.[16] From 1923 to 1928, Rotary’s office and headquarters were located on E 20th Street (now E Cullerton Street) in the Atwell Building.[19] During this same time, the monthly magazine The Rotarian was published mere floors below by Atwell Printing and Binding Company.[20] By 1925, Rotary had grown to 200 clubs with more than 20,000 members.[21] During the 1930s there was an expanding conflict in Asia between Japan and China and the fear of a confrontation between Japan and the United States. In hopes of helping resolve these issues, a leading Japanese international statesman, Prince Iyesato Tokugawa, was chosen as the Honorary Keynote Speaker at Rotary’s 25th Anniversary Convention held in 1930 in Chicago. Prince Tokugawa held the position of president of Japan’s upper house of congress, the National Diet, for 30 years. Tokugawa promoted democratic principles and international goodwill. It was only after his death in 1940 that Japanese militants were able to push Japan into joining the Axis Powers in WWII.[22][23]

World War II era in Europe

Rotary Clubs in Spain ceased to operate shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.[24]

Clubs were disbanded[why?] across Europe as follows:[24]

Rotary International has worked with the UN since the UN started in 1945. At that time Rotary was involved in 65 countries. The two organizations shared ideals around promoting peace. Rotary received consultative status at the UN in 1946–47.[27][citation needed]

During the Third Reich, Rotary Clubs were grouped with Freemasonry as secret societies associated with Jews, and Nazi officials were banned from joining them. This was reversed in July 1933 after appeals but the club was forced to ban all Jews from membership. This led to several non-Jews quitting in solidarity. In order to survive, the members tried to show their loyalty to the Nazi leadership, inviting government officials and high-standing businesspeople. These included Hermann Schlosser, a business manager for Degesch – which supplied Zyklon B for use at death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau. After 1945, the Rotary club tried to control the damage by preventing members such as Hans Globke and Wolfgang A. Wick from being appointed presidents.[28] 

From 1945 onward


U.S. stamp commemorating Rotary International’s 50th anniversary in 1955


Memorial seat, Melbourne, Australia

Rotary clubs in Eastern Europe and communist nations were disbanded by 1945–46, but new Rotary clubs were organized in many other countries, and by the time of the national independence movements in Africa and Asia, the new nations already had Rotary clubs. After the relaxation of government control of community groups in Russia and former Soviet satellite nations, Rotarians were welcomed as club organizers, and clubs were formed in those countries, beginning with the Moscow club in 1990.[citation needed]

In 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus program to immunize all of the world’s children against polio. As of 2011, Rotary had contributed more than 900 million US dollars to the cause.[29]

As of 2006, Rotary had more than 1.4 million members in over 36,000 clubs among 200 countries and geographical areas, making it the most widespread by branches and second largest service club by membership, behind Lions Clubs International.[30] The number of Rotarians has slightly declined in recent years: Between 2002 and 2006, they went from 1,245,000 to 1,223,000 members. North America accounts for 450,000 members, Asia for 300,000, Europe for 250,000, Latin America for 100,000, Oceania for 100,000 and Africa for 30,000.[citation needed]

Rotary International Presidents 2001–present

  • Richard D. King (2001–02)
  • Bhichai Rattakul (2002–03)
  • Jonathan B. Majiyagbe (2003–04)
  • Glenn E. Estess, Sr. (2004–05)
  • Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar (2005–06)
  • William Boyd (2006–07)
  • Wilfrid J. Wilkinson (2007–08)
  • Dong Kurn Lee (2008–09)
  • John Kenny (2009–10)
  • Ray Klinginsmith (2010–11)
  • Kalyan Banerjee (2011–12)
  • Sakuji Tanaka (2012–13)
  • Ron D. Burton (2013–14)
  • Gary C.K. Huang (2014–15)
  • K.R. Ravindran (2015–16)
  • John F. Germ (2016–17)
  • Ian H. S. Riseley (2017–18)
  • Barry Rassin (2018–19)
  • Mark Daniel Maloney (2019–20)
  • Holger Knaack (2020–21)
  • Shekhar Mehta (2021–22)
  • Jennifer E. Jones (2022–23)
  • Gordon McInally (2023–24)

Other notable past Presidents