Who was Paul Harris?
Paul Harris was the founder of Rotary. But first he was just one man with a dream of self-improvement. That humble dream soon grew into local fellowship before expanding into community service on an issue that was very important at the time in downtown Chicago, the construction of public toilets. Like other visionaries whose dreams have exceeded their expectations, Paul Harris is one such man. Once the dream was put into motion, it grew and grew until it began to swallow the whole world in the form of today's million-member international institution including Rotarians from 33,000 clubs in over 200 countries, including you!
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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.
“I was sure that there must be many other young men who had come from farms and small villages to establish themselves in Chicago ... Why not bring them together? If others were longing for fellowship as I was, something would come of it.”
In February 1907, Harris was elected the third president of the Rotary Club of Chicago, a position he held until the fall of 1908. Toward the end of his club presidency, Harris worked to expand Rotary beyond Chicago. Some club members resisted, not wanting to take on the additional financial burden. But Harris persisted and by 1910 Rotary had expanded to several other major U.S. cities.
Harris died on 27 January 1947 in Chicago at age 78 after a prolonged illness.
After his death, the Paul Harris Memorial Fund was earmarked to help establish Rotary Foundation Fellowships for advanced study. Today, donors who give $1,000 or more annually to the Annual Fund, PolioPlus, or an approved Foundation grant can become members of the Paul Harris Society.