Affixed to the coat lapels and dresses of people in lands around the world is a wheel with six spokes, twenty-four cogways and a keyway. It identifies the wearer as a Rotarian, one of more than 1,225,000 business and professional executives who belong to the over 32,000 Rotary clubs in 168 countries on six continents.
The basic design on the emblem, the wheel, dates back to 1905, the year the first Rotary Club was organized in Chicago, IL. Shortly after the formation of the Chicago club, the members submitted recommendations based upon the wheel which they believed would best symbolize the character of the new organization. Designs ranged from simple buggy wheels to elaborate locomotive wheels. Some incorporated clouds into the design, one even superimposed a ribbon emblazoned with the inscription, “Rotary Club”.
In 1910, when the National Association of Rotary Clubs was formed, they discovered almost as many designs as there were clubs. Prior to the 1912 convention in Duluth, MN, the national headquarters invited all clubs to submit recommendations for an emblem based upon the wheel. Together, they selected a gear wheel in royal blue and gold as the official Rotary emblem. It survived untouched for only eight years. Engineers quickly recognized that Rotary’s new gear-like emblem was mechanically unsound; it could do no work because it lacked a keyway by which it could be locked to a shaft.
Following several years of study, the Rotary emblem as we presently know it was adopted in 1923. The gear was no longer an idler, but was not capable of transmitting power to or from a shaft. The wheel had been “turned on”, and it has been rolling ever since!