Rotary began as an idea more than 100 years ago. Today, Rotary flourishes worldwide with 1.2 million members in more than 200 countries and geographical areas.
Rotary History and Archives is the authority on Rotary’s rich, evolving history. Located in Lincolnwood, Illinois, USA, the History and Archives team continues to update and provide access to its collection of tens of thousands of items from all over the world.
At the 1915 Rotary Convention in San Francisco, Rotarians adopted a Rotary Code of Ethics. It was supplanted by the shorter Four-Way Test and not used after 1980. We present it here as a historical document that illustrates the mind-set of Rotary’s founders and early leaders.
But is it not a worthy template for Rotarians’ conduct today?
Rotary Code of Ethics — 1915
For Businessmen of All Lines
My business standards shall have in them a note of sympathy for our common humanity. My business dealings, ambitions and relations shall always cause me to take into consideration my highest duties as a member of society. In every position in business life, in every responsibility that comes before me, my chief thought shall be to fill that responsibility and discharge that duty so when I have ended each of them, I shall have lifted the level of human ideals and achievements a little higher than I found it. As a Rotarian it is my duty:
I – To consider any vocation worthy and as affording me distinct opportunity to serve society.
II – To improve myself, increase my efficiency and enlarge my service, and by doing so attest my faith in the fundamental principle of Rotary, that he/she profits most who serves the best.
III – To realize that I am a business man and ambitious to succeed; but that I am first an ethical man and wish no success that is not founded on the highest justice and morality.
IV – To hold that the exchange of my goods, my service and my ideas for profit is legitimate and ethical, provided that all parties in the exchange are benefitted thereby.
V – To use my best endeavors to elevate the standards of the vocation in which I am engaged, and so to conduct my affairs that others in my vocation may find it wise, profitable and conducive to happiness to emulate my example.
VI – To conduct my business in such a manner that I may give a perfect service equal to or even better than my competitor, and when in doubt to give added service beyond the strict measure of debt or obligation.
VII – To understand that one of the greatest assets of a professional or of a business man is his friends and that any advantage gained by reason of friendship is eminently ethical and proper.
VIII – To hold that true friends demand nothing of one another and that any abuse of the confidence of friendship for profit is foreign to the spirit of Rotary, and in violation of its Code of Ethics.
IX – To consider no personal success legitimate or ethical which is secured by taking unfair advantage of certain opportunities in the social order that are absolutely denied others, nor will I take advantage of opportunities to achieve material success that others will not take because of the questionable morality involved.
X – To be not more obligated to a brother Rotarian than I am to every other man in human society; because the genius of Rotary is not in its competition, but in its cooperation; for provincialism can never have a place in an institution like Rotary, and Rotarians assert that Human Rights are not confined to Rotary Clubs, but are as deep and as broad as the race itself; and for these high purposes does Rotary exist to educate all men and all institutions.
XI – Finally, believing in the universality of the Golden Rule, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them, we contend that Society best holds together when equal opportunity is accorded all men in the natural resources of this planet.