Paul Harris - our Founder

Paul Harris

After setting up his law practice in Chicago, Paul Harris gathered several business associates to discuss the idea of forming an organization for local professionals. 

On 23 February 1905 Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram Shorey gathered at Loehr’s office in Room 711 of the Unity Building in downtown Chicago. This was the first Rotary club meeting during which Paul Harris unfolded his general plan for Rotary meetings.

In February 1907, Paul Harris was elected the third president of the Rotary Club of Chicago, a position he held until the fall of 1908. During his presidency, he formed the Executive Committee, later called the Ways and Means Committee, which met during lunch and was open to any member. The noon meeting was the foundation for Rotary's tradition of club luncheon meetings.

Toward the end of his club presidency, Paul Harris worked to expand Rotary beyond Chicago. Some club members resisted, not wanting to take on the additional financial burden. But Paul Harris persisted and by 1910 Rotary had expanded to several other major U.S. cities.

Paul Harris recognized the need to form an executive board of directors and a national association. In August 1910 Rotarians held their first national convention in Chicago, where the 16 existing clubs unified as the National Association of Rotary Clubs. The new association unanimously elected Harris as its president.

At the end of his second term, Paul Harris resigned, citing ill health and the demands of his professional practice and personal life. He was elected president emeritus by convention action, a title he held until his death.

In the mid-1920s Paul Harris became actively involved in Rotary again, attending conventions and visiting clubs throughout the world.

Paul Harris died on 27 January 1947 in Chicago at age 78 after his prolonged illness. Funeral services were held at Morgan Park Congregational Church on Chicago’s South Side. Three Rotary leaders spoke: Perry, Past RI President T.A. Warren, and then RI President Richard Hedke. Past presidents of the Rotary Club of Chicago served as pallbearers.

Paul Harris made it known that he preferred contributions to The Rotary Foundation when he died in lieu of flowers. By coincidence, days before he died, Rotary leaders had committed to a major fund raising effort for the Foundation. After Paul Harris’s death, the Paul Harris Memorial Fund was created as a way to solicit these funds. The Paul Harris Memorial Fund was earmarked to help establish Rotary Foundation Fellowships for advanced study. At its May/June 1947 meeting, the Board of Directors allocated $60,000 of the $228,000 raised to support the program. The program was known as the Paul Harris Foundation Fellowships for advanced study during the first year.

The popular online video site YouTube recently awarded Rotary a nonprofit channel to boost exposure of Rotary's humanitarian mission. View all of Rotary's public service announcements on the Rotary YouTube page. Listen to an interesting recording of a radio broadcast made by Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary, in 1933, some 28 years after the founding of the organisation. Paul Harris speech

First Four Rotarians

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