History of Rotary
age 28, in 1896.
The first four Rotarians. From left: Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, Hiram E. Shorey, Paul P. Harris.
On 23 February 1905, Paul P. Harris, Gustavus Loehr, Silvester Schiele, and Hiram E. Shorey gathered in Loehr’s office for what would become known as the first Rotary club meeting.
Harris’ desire for camaraderie among business associates brought together these four men and eventually led to an international organization of service and fellowship.
Each of the first four Rotarians, and Harry L. Ruggles, who is often called the “fifth Rotarian,” brought different professional perspectives to the organization.
Rotary’s founder, Harris, was born in Racine, Wisconsin, USA, on 19 April 1868. He was raised by his paternal grandparents in Vermont and attended the University of Vermont, Princeton, and the University of Iowa. Harris, a lawyer, was Rotary president from 1910 to 1912 and a member of the Rotary Club of Chicago until his death on 27 January 1947.
Loehr, a mining engineer, was born on 18 October 1864 in Carlinville, Illinois, USA. He was a Rotarian for only a few years, never holding office at the club or international level. But that first Rotary meeting was held in his office, Room 711 of the Unity Building in downtown Chicago. He died in Chicago on 23 May 1918.
Shorey, a merchant tailor, served as recording secretary during the club’s first year. He was a Rotarian for only a few years, too. He was born in Maine, USA, in August 1862 and died in March 1944.
His wife is also recorded in the census as born in Saxony and aged 49. The Loehrs landed from Europe in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 13, 1852.
They made their way North in the next few years. Of the seven children from the union of Johann Loehr and Frederika Knabner listed in the 1880 Census, Gus was the fourth. The oldest is Pauline aged 22 in 1880, and shown as “born in Illinois” as were all the other children. This suggests that the Loehrs arrived in Illinois before 1858 and settled there.
In Carlinville, the Loehrs set up a general store, while the children went to local schools. Gus’s two older brothers, Adolph and Theodore both worked locally as clerks. In Masonic records, Gustave Loehr is shown as a ‘jeweler’ on one document and as a ‘promoter’ and also as a ‘mining engineer in some of Paul Harris’ writing. In 1886 at the age of 22, he became a freemason, but only ten years later in 1896, he was suspended for non-payment of dues. However, after a further seven years he was reinstated and remained a mason until his death on May 23, 1918.
Gus Loehr Bio from “The Book of Chicagoans, a Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Chicago” published in 1905 by A. N. Marquis & Company (the publisher of “Who’s Who in America)
It was at Gus’s office in the Unity Building on Dearborn Street, Chicago, that on the night of February 23, 1905, the meeting took place which led to the formation of the first Rotary club.
Silvester Schiele and Paul had dined together at an Italian restaurant on Chicago’s near north side. Gus, by prearrangement, had invited a personal friend of his, Hiram Shorey, a merchant tailor, in the Loop.
Paul Harris wrote about him that, “Gustave’s personality challenged attention. His was a rare combination, the good in him easily outweighing the bad. He was a stormy petrel, vehement, impetuous, imperative, domineering, in one breath; then calm, docile, and lovable in the next. He was always thought compelling; his words were spoken with lightning like rapidity, and with such force that men frequently stopped in the street to look at him. His educational advantages had been limited, but his English was classical. Where he found the vocabulary with which to give his furious thoughts expression, was a quandary. Gus’ membership was of brief duration.
The feverish ups and downs of business resulted first in his resignation from membership, and a few years later in his death.
Requiescat in pace. Dear Gus, you rested little while here.”
Gus Loehr died suddenly in Chicago on May 23 1918 at the age of 53 when running to catch a train. He was buried in the family home of Carlinville
Schiele, a coal dealer, served as the Chicago club’s first president in 1905 and Rotary International’s treasurer from July to December 1945. Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, USA, in June 1870, Schiele attended Terre Haute Business College and served in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War. He was president of the Schiele Coal Company from 1902 until his retirement in 1939. He and Harris became lifelong friends and lived near each other on the South Side of Chicago. Schiele died on 17 December 1945 and is buried near Harris at Mount Hope Cemetery.
Before December 1945.
Hiram E. Shorey
as a young man.
Harry L. Ruggles,
When the Rotary Club of Chicago published this member roster in October 1905, the club had grown to 21 members, including two honorary members.