Rotary Wheel


How much do you know about the history of Rotary's symbol? Do you know why it has so many cogs? Today, your curiosity will be satisfied.

The Rotary gearwheel is one of the most familiar symbols in the world today. It has been a symbol of Rotary since its early days, but for many years, there was no standard Rotary emblem. Rotary clubs designed their own.


Rotary Wheel 1906-07

The first design was made by Chicago Rotarian Montague Bear, an engraver, who drew a simple wagon wheel based on Paul Harris' idea. Paul Harris reasoned the wheel symbolizes civilization and movement. The members rejected this first design as it looked too lifeless and so to give the impression of action, the engraver added clouds of dust both ahead and behind the wheel. He finally removed the clouds of dust as it was pointed out to him by another Rotary member that a wheel would not be able to generate these clouds in front of it.

During the 1911 national convention in Portland it was suggested that delegates adopt a standard emblem, based upon the wheel, which had become the generally accepted emblem of Rotary clubs A committee was appointed to come up with a design, which they've completed in under a month. How? They just copied the emblem used by the Rotary Club of Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia club updated the original wagon wheel design by adding cogs and converting it into a working wheel. This was meant to symbolize the idea of members working together and beign interlocked with one another to achieve the organization's objectives. The wheel had 19 cogs because the club was chartered as the 19th club in the world. The emblem was design by the Philadelphia club's president at the time.

In 1912, during the 1912 Rotary convention in Duluth, the emblem used by the Rotary Club of Philadelphia was approved as the standard design for the whole organization while also adding "Rotary International" to it. Fun fact: the president of the Philadelphia club, the one who designed the club's emblem, also became the president of the International Association of Rotary Clubs during that same convention.

Even after this standard design was approved, there was still many clubs with their own emblems and variations of the wheel and the cogwheel. Everyone was confused! Even the Rotarian magazine sometime depicted the wheel with 19 cogs, other times with 20 or 27.

In 1918, a Rotarian engineer by the name of Oscar Bjorge said that the "emblem was an insult to engineering that only the brain of an artist could conceive". He said that not only the cogs were irregularly spaced, but a cogwheel with 19 cogs would not work. He therefore designed a new one with 24 cogs and 6 spokes which symbolized the 6 objectives of Rotary at the time. He also added a keway which locks a wheel to a hub, thus making it a working one.

The exact specifications of the engineer's design were written into the Manual of Procedure in 1928. These specifications have remained unchanged ever since.


Here is a video of a collaborative project of the Rotary Clubs of Wilmington. It is the world's Largest Rotary Wheel:

Dr. Heber W Johnson Rotary Wheel: 5:17 min


Watch the short song below composed by Rotarian Heinzelman of the Rotary club of Lake County Golden Triangle:

Rotary Wheel Song: 1:21 min


What does the Rotary wheel mean to you?

If you would like to read more about the history of the Rotary symbol and see more photos of historical wheels, please go here

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