Historic Moments in Rotary

Firsts & Fun Facts - Jan., 2012, R. I. News

ABOVE - The first four Rotarians: Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram Shorey, and Paul P. Harris, sometime between 1905 and 1912 first general secretary.

Club firsts On 23 February 1905, Paul P. Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram E. Shorey gathered in Chicago for what would become known as the first Rotary club meeting. A second club was formed in San Francisco in 1908, and soon after, clubs began to pop up across North America. On 1 August 1912, the Rotary Club of London became the first club chartered outside of North America. The Rotary Club of Dublin, Ireland, had been organized earlier, but didn’t receive its charter until 1 May 1913.

Presidential firsts Rotary founder Paul Harris wasn’t the first president of a Rotary club. That distinction is actually held by Harris’s friend Silvester Schiele, who served as the first president of the Rotary Club of Chicago. Harris deferred his club leadership duties until February 1907, when he was elected the third president of the Chicago club. Paul Harris was elected as first president of the National Association of Rotary Clubs (which later became Rotary International) in 1910. Harris is the only president to have served two terms.

Other firsts: Canadian E. Leslie Pidgeon (1917-18) was the first Rotary president from outside the United States, Sydney W. Pascall (1931-32) was the first from Great Britain, and Maurice Duperrey (1937-38) was the first from continental Europe.

Paul Harris Fellow recognition was established in 1957 to show appreciation for contributions, and to encourage substantial ones, to what was then the Foundation’s only program: Rotary Foundation Fellowships for Advanced Study, the precursor to Ambassadorial Scholarships. Today, the recognition acknowledges individuals who contribute, or who have contributions made in their name, $1,000 to The Rotary Foundation.


The first Paul Harris Fellow medallion (left) and a later version. Various lapel & neck ribbons were used with this medallion throughout the years.

Convention facts Edinburgh, Scotland, hosted the first convention outside North America in June 1921. Rotary’s first convention in Asia was held in Tokyo in 1961. Among the record-setting 23,366 paid and unpaid registrants was the emperor of Japan. The largest convention to date, based on the number of paid registrants, was the Rotary centennial convention, held in Chicago in 2005.

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