Paul Percy Harris (1868-1947), lawyer, was the founder of Rotary, the first and the most
international of the service clubs organizations, integrated by professionals and executives that implement humanitarian activities,
promote a high pattern of professional ethics, as well as peace and world understanding.
Born in Racine, Wisconsin (USA), on April 19, 1868, Paul was the second of six children of George N. Harris and Cornelia Bryan Harris. When he was three years old he went to live in Wallingford, Vermont (USA) with its paternal grandparents, that grew him up. He was married with Jean Thompson Harris (1881-1963), but they didn't have children. He graduated in the University of Iowa and obtained the title of Honorary Doctor of the University of Vermont.
Paul Harris worked as newspaper reporter, economy teacher, theater actor and cowboy. He took countless trips in the United States and Europe, as representative of a marble and granite company. In 1896 he decided to work in Chicago. Certain night, during a walk after having dinner at another lawyer's house, Paul Harris, after being introduced to some friends of his colleague that were owners of commercial houses in that residential neighborhood of Chicago, remembered the life in New England's city where he grew. That episode inspired Paul Harris to organize a club, without
political or religious restrictions, so that executives and professionals had the opportunity to enjoy companionship and to establish new friendships.
On February 23, 1905, Paul Harris, together with other three businessmen: Silvester Schiele, a coal merchant, Gustavus Loehr, an engineer of mines, and Hiram Shorey, a tailor, formed the first club. The club received the name of "Rotary" due to the fact that its partners met each time at a different work places of theirs. Its members grew quickly. Many members were coming from small cities. In the third year of the club, Paul Harris assumed the presidency and decided that the Rotary Club idea should be expanded to other cities with the intention of transforming it in an important movement of service giving.
The second Rotary Club was founded in San Francisco, California (USA), in 1908. In August of 1910, when the number of clubs reached 16, the Rotary Clubs National Association was organized. When, in 1912, the movement became international, after the formation of clubs in Canada and England, the name changed "International Association of Rotary Clubs". Paul Harris was the first
president of both associations. In 1922, the name was abbreviated to "Rotary International". Past some years, branches opened up in Europe and Asia. The Quadruple Test was adopted in 1932. However, due to the two world wars, for a long time Oriental Europe maintained its doors closed to Rotary. Only in 1989, Rotary Clubs were re-established in Poland and Hungary. In 1990 was formed the first Rotary Club in the former Soviet Union.
On January 27, 1947, for occasion of the Rotary International's Former President's death, Paul Harris, there was about 6000 Rotary Clubs in the whole world, united by the ideals of Rotarian companionship and service giving.
All over the world, the Rotarians dedicate their time and knowledge to the several professional programs and projects of community and international service giving. Rotary International's Rotary Foundation sponsors educational and humanitarian international programs, at an annual cost of approximately US$ 60 million, offering subsidies with the objective of to saving lives and to promote the social welfare. Besides, it sponsors international ambassadors of the good will through the programs of educational scholarships to students and university teachers and international exchange of professionals and executives. Nowadays, the Scholarship Program of the Rotary Foundation is globally the largest program sponsored by a private organization. About 1000 scholarships are granted annually. Through the Polio Plus Program, Rotary International already collected more than US$ 230 million destined to the purchase of Polio vaccine, to the support to the "social" mobilization, to the motivation of the public and private sectors and the attendance of the thousands of volunteers of the immunization campaigns.
Although Paul Harris dedicated a lot of its time to Rotary, he also stood out for its civic and professional works. He was the first director-president of the National Association for Deficient Children and Adults. He was member of the director council of the Order of the Lawyers of the United States, as well as member of the director council of the Order of the Lawyers from Chicago and its representative in the International Congress of Law in Hague (Holland). He was honored with the "Silver Buffalo" prize, of the U.S. Scouts Organization, for different services pro-youth and honored by the governments of Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France and Peru.