The Rotary Wheel Pin

By Linda Hamilton

Rotary Club of Oakland, California, the third oldest club in the world.

Paul Harris Fellow and Society pins, Rotary Fellowship pins, Rotary International theme pins, Rotary District pins, Rotaract and Interact pins, and the Rotary Wheel…Each of these pins tells a unique Rotary story!.

What is the story behind the Rotary wheel pin?.

The first lapel pin in the history of the Rotary was designed and made by New York Rotary Club member, John Frick on October 14, 1909 and worn by the club’s first president Bradford Bullock from 1909 until his premature death in 1911 (At the time, he was serving as VP of the National Association of Rotary Clubs). The forerunner of the traditional Rotary pin worn today, it features the Rotary wheel has it appeared in its earliest representation with eight spokes, no cogs, and no keyway.

The wheel itself became the symbol of Rotary in 1906, a year after the club’s formation in Chicago. Asked to design a symbol for the new club, Chicago Rotarian Montague Bear, an engraver, drew a simple wagon wheel with a few lines to show dust and motion (14 spokes, no cogs, no keyway). Paul Harris reasoned that the wheel symbolized “Civilization and Movement.” One observant Rotarian pointed out that a wheel would not generate clouds of dust in front of it, so Montague removed the offending cloud and that design remained the emblem for Chicago until 1912.

When new clubs formed, they adopted the wheel in symbols of their own. Our club integrated the New York wheel and an oak tree as our symbol. It appears on the top of our first Live Oak newsletter in 1914.

In 1910, the Rotary Club of Philadelphia added cogs to create a working wheel, symbolizing members working together, literally interlocked with one another to achieve the organization’s objectives. They used 19 cogs in honor of their club, the 19th in Rotary. They created hundreds of metal pins with this design and successfully pitched it as the new official international wheel in 1912. It didn’t hurt that the president of the Philadelphia club [who had designed that club’s emblem] became president of the International Association of Rotary Clubs at the 1912 Duluth convention.

In 1918, two Rotarian engineers from the Duluth Club Charles Henry Mackintosh and Oscar Bjorge (formally of Minnesota) petitioned Rotary to amend the design of the wheel. They argued that a cogwheel with 19 cogs would not work. Also, the emblem had square-cornered teeth of disproportionate size, and the cogs were irregularly spaced. Charles called it, “An anachronism to engineers.” Oscar called it “an insult to engineering that only the brain of an artist could conceive.” Oscar sketched a new wheel, with 6 spokes (symbolizing the 6 Objects of Rotary at that time) and 24 cogs or teeth. This design was presented to the Rotary world in 1920.

However, there remained many versions of the Rotary wheel in use around the world by the different clubs. The Oakland Club was still using its 1914 wheel and oak tree in 1922. It wasn’t until 1922 that the Rotary International Association declared that all Rotary clubs should adopt a single design as the exclusive emblem of Rotarians. But, before the approval of Charles and Oscar’s gear wheel, the President of Rotary Club of Los Angeles, Will Forker submitted one change: “The ‘hub’ design of the new ‘wheel’ is that of an ‘idler’ wheel or gear, there being no provision for the reception or transmission of power to or from a shaft,” he argued. But, he said, incorporating a keyway would make the new wheel “a real worker[LH1].” Oscar and Charles heartily agreed. So, in 1923 the keyway was added and the design, which we see on our pins was formally adopted as the official Rotary International emblem.

Why wear a Rotary pin?

Reasons for wearing a pin varied: for publicity of Rotary, for pride, for acceptance and recognition, for the start of easy conversation with other Rotarians wherever you go. Wearing a Rotary Fellowship pin shows a Rotarian’s vocation, hobby or recreational interest.

Past RI President Bob Barth (1993-94, from the Rotary Club of Aarau, Switzerland) felt that a Rotary pin says this about the wearer: “You can rely on me, I am dependable, I am reliable, I give more than I take, and I am available.”

Sources for this piece: feb 1938, pp44 “Turns the Wheel Has Taken” by K.K. Krueger; Feb 1955, pp 46, “Turns of the Wheel,”