Paul P. Harris was born in Racine, Wisconsin. At age three, when his family fell on hard times, they moved to Vermont to live with Harris’ paternal grandparents. He attended Princeton University, the University of Vermont and the University of Iowa. For the next five years he worked odd jobs as a salesman and reporter for a newspaper, on fruit farms, as an actor, a cowboy, and on cattle ships that traveled to Europe. Harris eventually settled in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago, where he lived until his death in 1947.
He began his law practice in 1896 in Chicago. In 1905 Harris organized the first Rotary club “in fellowship and friendship” with three business associates, Silvester Schele, Gustavus Loehr and Hiram Shorey. His initial goal was to create a club of professional and businessmen for friendship and fellowship. Early on, Harris realized that Rotary needed a greater purpose. While Harris served as president of the Chicago Rotary Club in 1907, the club initiated its first public service project, the construction of public toilets in Chicago. This step transformed Rotary into the world’s first service club.
Harris had great ambitions for the growth of Rotary, and very early in the organization’s history new clubs were started, first on the West Coast in San Francisco, and then all over the US and in Europe.
Paul Harris died on January 27, 1947. More than 300,000 Rotarians mourned. An outpouring of contributions to The Rotary Foundation created the Paul Harris Memorial Fund, which continues to support the Rotary Foundation.