The historical roots of Rotary go back to 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. Paul Harris, a lonely young lawyer, was struggling to build his budding legal practice. At the turn of the century, there was often a gulf of misunderstanding between the members of the professions and those who engaged in business and trade. Paul Harris deeply felt a need to bridge that gulf - - to rescue the professional from a lonesome and irritatitng isolation - - to dignify the trade occupation. So, on the evening of February 23, 1905, Paul invited a coal dealer, a tailor, and a mining engineer to come to his office to discuss the idea of a club based upon the belief that people in the trades and the professions could and should be personal friends. The following day they expanded the circle by including a printer and a real estate dealer.
The six members of the new group were comparative strangers from small towns and all felt the need of personal friendships to replace those severed by moving from their hometown. The plans for the club were promptly completed. Gatherings were held in the place of business of each member to "rotate" the location of each meeting. The "rotating" of the meeting plan prompted Paul Harris to suggest the new club be named "ROTARY."
In the early days, the meetings were devoted to helping each member expand business opportunities. Papers on business topics were read and members were primarily urged to help increase business for each other. The meetings were enlivened with singing and fellowship activities. THe membership expanded and the group decided to hold dinner meetings, which later gave way to weekly noonday luncheons.
By 1907, the Rotary Club of Chicago extended its activities into the community by establishing a service project to improve the welfare of the city. The initial projec established public comfort stations in Chicago's City Hall. Rotary became known as a "service club," and has been the model on which all other service clubs were later organized.
In 1908, the idea of the Rotary Club extended across the nation and the second club was formed in San Francisco. A few months later, the third club was organized in Oakland. Within two years, new clubs sprang up in Seattle , Los Angeles , New York City , Boston , St. Louis , Kansas City , and New Orleans . By 1910, a club waw organized in Winnipeg, Canada and Rotary became an "international" organization.