Paul Harris – Founder of Rotary

Paul Harris, Founder of Rotary

"Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves." 

Paul Harris, Rotary Founder

Paul Harris was born in Racine, Wisconsin, USA on April 19, 1868. When Paul was just three-years-old, his father’s business collapsed and he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Wallingford, Vermont. Young Paul grew up there and attended the University of Vermont, then Princeton University, and law school at Iowa University.

After graduation he set out on a five-year adventure. “I had not begun to see enough of the world and I made the resolve to devote the next five years to the study of life from as many different angles and in as many different cities as possible.” The result? “The five years of knockabout experiences broadened my vision and gave me a better understanding of men.” Nine years after establishing his law practice in Chicago, Paul started the first Rotary club.

Ten years after his death, in 1957, Rotary began recognizing individuals with the Paul Harris Fellow Award. It is the highest honor a club can bestow on a person. The award acknowledges "service above self" which that individual has offered to their community, their nation or indeed to the world. It is one of the most prestigious awards in Rotary. Notables such as Mother Teresa, Luciano Pavarotti, and Pope John Paul II have all accepted Paul Harris Fellow Awards.