Early in its history, the members of the first Rotary club realized that fellowship and mutual self-interest were not enough to keep a group of busy professionals meeting each week. Undertaking efforts to improve the lives of others proved an even more powerful motivation.
In 1907 the club adopted a practical community service project — the installation of a public comfort station near the city hall in downtown Chicago.
Three years after the organization of the Chicago club, a second club was formed in San Francisco, California, and three more clubs were founded the following year. By 1910, there were 16 clubs in the United States and the first convention was held in Chicago where the clubs organized themselves to form the National Association of Rotary Clubs. At that convention, a member of the Chicago club proposed a motto for the new organization, recognizing its commitment to the idea of service: “He Profits Most Who Serves His Fellows Best.”
The following year, another early leader spoke of the importance of serving others and promoted the idea that a club should be organized on the principle of “Service, Not Self.” The two sayings, modified to “He Profits Most Who Serves Best” and “Service Above Self,” were quickly embraced by all Rotarians and were officially designated as Rotary mottoes at the 1950 convention in Detroit, Michigan.
In 1989, the Rotary International Council on Legislation established Service Above Self as the organization’s principal motto.