In Chicago in 1905, Paul Harris and three acquaintances met to organize a small group of men to meet weekly for fellowship. They rotated the meeting sites, and called it a "Rotary Club". It soon became a luncheon meeting club, with group singing, and the service idea was developed. A wagon-wheel became the Club symbol. In 1907, a second Rotary Club was formed, in San Francisco. Then other Clubs were formed, and in 1910, a "National Association of Rotary Clubs" was formed, with Paul Harris as President. A convention was held, and a national office established.
In late 1910, Price Cross of Dallas visited the Rotary Club in San Francisco. He returned to Dallas and discussed the Rotary idea with Fred E. Johnston and others. Then they invited a number of Dallas business and professional leaders to a meeting at the Oriental Hotel, on April 20, 1911. They organized the Rotary Club of Dallas, the first such Club in Texas and the 39th in all of Rotary. They adopted a Constitution and By-Laws, and elected Marvin E. Martin as the first Club President. Thus the service club idea came to Texas, and Dallas Rotary was only the second Club (to New Orleans) throughout the Gulf States.
Dallas Rotary met for lunch each Thursday Noon at the Oriental Hotel, at Commerce and Akard Streets in the heart of downtown Dallas. Lunch cost 50 cents, the Club initiation fee was $5.00, and Club dues were $12.00 per year. In addition to Cross, Johnston and Martin, other organizing members included Elmer E. Beach, Frank G. Love, Lawrence Miller, Harry A. Olmsted, Lewin Plunkett, Jake Schrodt and Hugo W. Schoellkopf.
The new Baker Hotel was completed and the Club moved there from the Adolphus in 1931. The Baker would be "home" to Dallas Rotary for the next forty-eight years. A Paul Harris portrait was placed in the Rotary office. The Rotary wives organized the Women of Rotary Club, which would help handicapped students and serve Parkland Hospital and other causes through the years. In 1935 a piano was placed on the Club car of the Rotary Special train to Mexico City, and Rotarians sang all the way to the RI Convention and back to Dallas.
Ruth Duffy left Dallas in 1936, and Rotarian Dick Trotter took over the office duties. The office was air-conditioned. Then in December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. was in the "Greatest War". Thirty Club members entered military service, and two of them failed to return. More than one hundred sons and grandsons of Club members also served. Seven were killed and three were prisoners-of-war. During the war, Club members helped the USO find rooms for visiting service men and women, and entertained troops stationed in the area.
In 1946, Dallas helped organize Oak Cliff Rotary, the second in Dallas. A Rotary Glee Club was organized with Hyman Kaszynski as director and Ligon Smith as pianist. This would later be known as the Greater Dallas Rotary Chorus, and would travel worldwide to sing at RI Conventions. Dr. Travis L. Shelton would be its director, later succeeded by Thomas R. Britt, with Mrs. Inez Teddlie as pianist. Miss Inez, as she was fondly known, continued as the pianist for the Rotary Club of Dallas until her death in 2002.
In the 1970's, the Rotary Town House would become the Club's most ambitious project. Camp Enterprise would appear in the 1980's, and support of the Lighthouse for the Blind would continue through many decades. Many Club members would become Paul Harris Fellows in support of the RI Foundation, with its worldwide scholarship and exchange programs. Then in 1987, RI began its most ambitious project ever - to inoculate all the world's children against polio and other dread diseases. Dallas Rotary's gifts and pledges would inoculate one million of those kids in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The Club moved from the Baker Hotel in 1979 as it was scheduled for demolition. It occupied the nearby Hilton Hotel for three years, then found a home at historic Union Station. In 1987, Nicki Nicol became the first woman member of the Club. Then when the Desert Storm War ended in 1991, Roy Bailey led the Club and others in arranging a tremendous patriotic rally at Texas Stadium.
Through the years, the Dallas Rotary Club was instrumental in the establishment of Rotary in Tokyo, Japan and Mexico City, Mexico and was directly responsible for the Fort Worth, Texas Rotary Club. In turn, each of these Clubs led in the growth of Rotary throughout their respective areas. Dallas is also the direct parent of twelve other Dallas area Clubs, and grandparent of more than thirty other Clubs. Among these are a fifth generation of Texas Clubs, great-great-grandchildren Clubs of the Dallas Rotary.