The Rotary Wheel

Rotary Wheel on Rotary International Logo

The Rotary wheel is the official emblem of Rotary International, a global organization of community leaders and volunteers who strive to make a positive impact in their communities and around the world. The wheel has 24 spokes, which represent the organization's belief in service above self, and its commitment to fostering goodwill and peace across all borders and cultures.

The design of the Rotary wheel was first adopted in 1905 at the Rotary Club of Chicago's second meeting, and it has since become an internationally recognized symbol of Rotary's commitment to service and philanthropy. The wheel is used on Rotary's flags, banners, and other materials to signify the organization's values and mission.

In addition to the 24 spokes, the Rotary wheel is also often depicted in blue and gold, which are the official colors of Rotary International. The blue represents stability and faithfulness, while the gold symbolizes both the prestige of Rotary and its commitment to service. Overall, the Rotary wheel represents the organization's unwavering dedication to making a positive impact in the world through community service and humanitarian efforts.

How Rotary’s emblem evolved

Rotary  Club of Chicago emblem, circa 1906

The Rotary wheel, unchanged since 1924, was redesigned many times in the early years of the organization. 

A Rotary Club of Chicago emblem that featured a wagon wheel influenced early logos of other clubs and Rotary International. 

Early club emblem

In 1905, Montague M. Bear, an engraver and member of the Rotary Club of Chicago, sketched a wagon wheel with 13 spokes as a club emblem. When fellow club members began to complain that the design was static and lifeless, Bear added flourishes that made the wheel appear to ride on a bed of clouds. Unfortunately, some members felt the clouds looked like dust, defying the laws of physics by being kicked up on both sides of the wheel. Bear responded by superimposing a banner with the words “Rotary Club” over the clouds.

Early association emblem

In 1911, Secretary Chesley R. Perry recommended that “action be taken by the National Association to establish the wheel as the basic part of the emblem of every Rotary club.” Clubs were invited to submit designs to an emblem committee before the 1912 convention in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. 

The Duluth convention provided some definition. “The emblem consists of the basic principle of a wheel with gears cut on the outer edge. ... The spokes are to be so designed as to indicate strength; the object of the gears, or cogs, being two-fold: First to relieve the plainness of the design, and Second, to symbolize power.” 

The word “Rotary” appeared at the top and “International Association” at the bottom. (Rotary became an international organization in 1912.) Clubs were encouraged to use a similar design, placing the name of their city at the bottom instead of “International Association.” The number of spokes and cogs was unspecified. As a result, many variations on the emblem were in use by 1918.

Oscar Bjorge’s design for the Rotary emblem, as published in the January 1920 issue of The Rotarian.

A standard emblem

To address the growing number of emblems, the Board appointed Charles Mackintosh, of the Rotary Club of Chicago, Illinois, USA, and Oscar Bjorge, of the Rotary Club of Duluth, Minnesota, USA, to the committee charged with standardizing the Rotary emblem. 

Bjorge drafted an emblem with six spokes and 24 cogs, giving it a sturdy appearance. In this design, the number of teeth and spokes was intended to reflect a real, working gearwheel. The number of spokes and cogs did not reflect any specific aspect of Rotary’s history or its programs, and this is still true today. 

In November 1919, the Board adopted Bjorge’s design and a detailed description, and the 1921 convention formally approved them. For many years, descriptions of the emblem simply referred to an article called “Redesigning the Rotary Wheel” in the January 1920 issue of The Rotarian, which announced the Board’s decision. 

By 1924, Bjorge’s design had been modified to include a keyway. This addition has been attributed to Will R. Forker, of the Rotary Club of Los Angeles, California, USA. He was reported to have said Bjorge’s design made no provision for the transfer of power to or from a shaft, rendering the wheel idle. Forker perceived Rotary as a “living force,” and inserting a keyway into the hub made the new wheel a “real worker.” 

In January 1924, the Board formally approved the emblem that was then in use. Not all written descriptions were updated immediately, however. To clear up any confusion caused by the various decisions about the emblem between 1912 and 1929, a standard description of the existing design, with a keyway, was approved by the 1929 convention. 

   A mark of excellence

The Rotary emblem today.

For many years, the wheel stood alone as the Rotary logo. Although the words “Rotary International” are embedded in the wheel, they’re hard to read from a distance. So in 2013, Rotary expanded the official logo to include the word “Rotary” next to the wheel.