Rotary Club of Mountain Home
According to the June 1982 Rotarian magazine, our recognized emblem, the Rotary wheel, stands for nothing! That's right! The insignia of 32,000 Rotary clubs around the world has no official meaning, nor does it necessarily signify anything, nor is there any symbolism connected to the Rotary wheel or any of its component parts.
"How can that be?" you ask. How can a worldwide organization such as Rotary International, with such a rich heritage of service have an emblem that has no official meaning?
Let's go back to 1905, the first year of Rotary. The newly formed Chicago club called Rotary needed an emblem. Since the name "Rotary" suggested a wheel, two wheel designs were proposed: the first was the wheel of a locomotive; the second, proposed by Montague Bear, was that of a buggy wheel, and this buggy wheel design was adopted as the official emblem of Rotary Club. In that time, the wheel was a symbol of civilization and movement, even though that symbolism was never officially attached to our Rotary wheel. Later, the Rotary wheel emblem was embellished with a cloud of dust, and streamers bearing the name "Rotary Club." In 1919, the familiar cogs were adopted and added to the outside of the wheel; then in 1929, the keyway in the center of the wheel was added to make the wheel a working wheel, rather than an idler.
Why has a respected, world-wide organization such as Rotary International failed to identify the symbolism of its emblem? Who is responsible for this terrible oversight? Well, before I try to answer that question, let's take a look at some of the popular views on exactly what is the symbolism of the Rotary wheel.
One view of the wheel is that the wheel, by its circular design, represents the world, with the cogs being the people of the world. In the center of the wheel lie the ideals of Rotary, with the spokes of the wheel representing those ideals reaching and spreading to the world and its many people.
Here's another view. In an address to a Rotary club in Zimbabwe, Deputy Mayor Doug Rowland, who is not a Rotarian, but who is a mechanical engineer, said that the design of the Rotary wheel had always fascinated him. He went on to suggest that the twenty-four cogs on the outer rim of the wheel might be the twenty-four hours that a Rotarian has available to promote the ideas of Rotary. The six spokes could be six days of work that could be done for Rotary, with the seventh day being a day of rest for physical and spiritual renewal. He further observed that the shaft and key appeared to be missing from the emblem. In his mind, the shaft would represent a particular task or project, and the key the Rotarians. From this view, once the shaft (or project) and the key (Rotarians) were inserted, then the wheel could use all of its strength for its designed purpose.
I have heard yet another opinion as to the meaning of the wheel - one that I particularly like, and one that I believe has special significance for the continuing success of a Rotary Club. In this view of the wheel, the cogs represent the membership of a Rotary Club. All of these individual cogs working together can accomplish the work for which the wheel was designed, and each is important for the smooth functioning of the wheel. The spokes represent the Board of Directors of the club, reaching from the center of the wheel to the individual members to provide direction and strength. In the center of the wheel is the keyway. When the key is in place and properly functioning, the entire wheel becomes locked to the shaft, and the wheel and all of its component parts become productive and alive, striving together with great strength to accomplish the task at hand. The key is your club president - and in this view of the wheel, the entire effectiveness of the club depends almost totally on the leadership and dependability of that one man, the key.
Well, I've given you a few views of the wheel. I'm sure there are others you may have heard - you may dream up others on your own. But there is no official symbolism for the wheel. Only the imaginations and dreams of people who view the wheel have attached any special significance to it. Come to think of it, isn't that great? Individual imagination - creative genius - turned loose on the Rotary wheel. What a wonderful idea! Look at all of the possible meanings the wheel may take on. It seems to me that it would be a shame to have an official symbolism for our Rotary wheel. For if we did, all of these other meaningful views of the wheel would be considered irreverent, and the imaginations of over a million Rotarians worldwide would be locked into a single interpretation of its meaning.
I submit to you that there has been careful wisdom, rather than oversight, in the apparent failure of Rotary to assign symbolic meaning to the wheel. For the wheel itself is simply a structure, an outline that represents Rotary; yet, if you take the wheel and add the individual genius and imagination of a Rotarian, its meaning and purpose can grow and expand to the limits of... well, to the limits of the effort put forth by the Rotarian himself.
Such is this thing we treasure called Rotary.
As we view Rotary, its meaning and its ability to become an effective working servant of mankind are limited only by our individual ability, our vision, and our personal commitment to put forth our best effort to foster the ideals of Rotary.
Larry G. Nelson Club President 1977-78