Paul Harris, the founder of Rotary, was born in Racine, Wisconsin, USA, on April 19, 1868, but moved at the age of 3 to Wallingford, Vermont, to be raised by his grandparents.
In the foreword to his autobiography My Road to Rotary, he credits the friendliness and tolerance he found in Vermont as his inspiration for the creation of Rotary.
Trained as a lawyer, Paul gave himself five years after his graduation from law school in 1891 to see as much of the world as possible before settling down. During that time, he travelled widely, supporting himself with a great variety of jobs.
He worked as a reporter in San Francisco, a teacher at a business college in Los Angeles, a cowboy in Colorado, a desk clerk in Jacksonville, Florida, a tender of cattle on a freighter to England, and as a travelling salesman for a granite company, covering both the U.S. and Europe.
Remaining true to his five-year plan, he settled in Chicago in 1896, and it was there on the evening of February 23, 1905, that he met with three friends to discuss his idea for a businessmen’s club. This is commonly regarded as the first Rotary club meeting.
Over the next five years, the movement spread as Rotary clubs were formed in other U.S. cities. When the National Association of Rotary Clubs held its first convention in 1910, Paul was elected president.
After his term, and as the organisations only president-emeritus, Paul continued to travel extensively, promoting the spread of Rotary both in the USA and abroad. A prolific writer, Paul wrote several books about the early days of the organization and the role he was privileged to play in it. These include The Founder of Rotary, This Rotarian Age and the autobiographical My Road to Rotary. He also wrote several volumes of Peregrinations detailing his many travels. He died in Chicago on January 27, 1947.