Our Culture


Rotary Going Business Class

It is now the practice of the Rotary Club that general club membership in a specific Rotary organization cannot include more than ten percent of a certain business or service occupational category. This is based on general occupations rather than offshoots of particular vocations. This was not the original practice envisioned by early Rotarians. Although the clubs are now more open in terms of allowing multiple memberships in business (and service) categories, originally there was to be only one representative from each business or service class, “included in the membership of a club.” (A Century of Service – David C. Forward) Paul Harris noted that without this original process he could envision a situation where, for example, six lawyers, after joining the club, tended to sit together and “talk shop” together each week. Despite this early practice, there was always an attempt to have members share resources and services with other fellow members.

In 1908, it was Chicago Rotarian, Charlie Newton, who noticed that fellow member and undertaker, Barney Arntzen, owned and drove a new ambulance, which he described as “the finest of its kind in Chicago.” In an effort to connect business members of Rotary, Charlie Newton found a way of contacting fellow Rotarian, Doc (Dr.) Baxter, and asked him if he ever required the services of an ambulance and driver. “Certainly I do” was the response of Doc Baxter; and he and Barney connected in a new business arrangement. As a result, Rotary’s only doctor, Doc Baxter, and the club’s only undertaker, Barney Arntzen, connected to offer their professional services as a team working together. Hopefully it was a more successful business venture for Doc Baxter than for the undertaker.



The Great Depression of the  1930’s  was  a  major  economic  challenge  for  Rotarians (as well as nearly everyone). Without the proper ethical conduct on the part of Rotarians it could be argued that survival of the organization might not have been possible or would have been more difficult to  achieve.

A Chicago businessman, Herbert J. Taylor, was asked to take the helm of a near- bankrupt Club Aluminum Company in 1932.  The  company,  founded  nine  years  earlier, was an American  cookware  manufacturer.  With  low   employee   morale,   financial   distress,   and experiencing ruthless competition from other firms, “Taylor used his code of conduct background to draft a 24-word code of conduct that he used to guide all of his daily decisions and discussions” (A Century Of Service – The Story Of Rotary International by David C. Forward). Taylor asked that department heads of Club Aluminum use the same formatted code. Taylor called the code THE FOUR-WAY TEST. The basis for the test was as follows:

  1. Is It The Truth?
  2. Is It Fair To All Concerned?
  3. Will It Build Goodwill And Better Friendships?
  4. Will It Be Beneficial To All Concerned?

The company, Club Aluminum, used THE FOUR-WAY TEST with all its employee  dealings, customer relationships, dealer involvement and negotiations, and when working with suppliers.

As the company (and the general economy) began to improve, Herb Taylor credited THE FOUR-WAY TEST with having a positive impact on Rotary during the Depression. As president   of Rotary International, Taylor introduced THE FOUR-WAY  TEST  to  the  organization  and  it was officially adopted in 1943. “The test (or code) has been translated into the languages of more than 100 countries. NASA Astronaut, Buzz Aldrin planted a FOUR-WAY TEST pin on the moon’s surface.” The Club Aluminum Company prospered for many years and was eventually acquired by Regal Ware Worldwide in 1984. As a company entity, it eventually disappeared after other buyouts.

As our club’s centennial approached, Birmingham Rotarian William E. Hull provided several talks on THE FOUR-WAY TEST to our and other Rotary clubs. He delivered the talks for more than a decade. In 2004, an updated edition of the test with commentary was written by William Hull. Copies of The Four-Way Test - Core Values of the Rotary Movement were provided to Rotarians at the Centennial Rotary International meeting in Chicago (2005).


Too Many Members?

The national Rotary Club (Rotary International) was celebrating its  75th year in 1980  and  Birmingham’s  Rotary  Club  was  not  far  behind  that  important milestone. Our club was already a large club, and some were asking,  “Is the club in Birmingham too large?” Across the country the same question was being asked of  others  in  the  Rotary membership.

Fast forward several decades and some  might ask the same question;  after all, Birmingham’s club is the largest Rotary Club in the world. Is our club too large? For an answer we only need to look back to the 1970’s at a statement  made  by  former  Rotary  president  and,  at  that  time,  member,   James   A. Head who stated, “Rotary is not simply a ‘club’ that (large numbers of club members) can just enjoy friends, clients and customers each week, it’s an organization (that gives us all the opportunity) to help people who need help, to address nationwide and world health problems and to develop even more respect of the races, religions, and genders.”

The fact is that the larger the club, the more the opportunities to help others in the community and the world. No member knows  every  member  of  our club, but the opportunity is  there  to develop  new  friendships  and  enjoy the fellowship each week at Rotary. Each member can participate in the club’s noble principles and enjoy the fellowship of others. After all, each week from 12:15 to 1:30 on Wednesdays, if you attend, your world  is  just  you  and  the other members at your Rotary table, always with a long list of opportunities and causes to take on within the setting of fellowship.

It would seem in terms of Rotary membership  matters,  the  more members the merrier and the more the club can accomplish. Our  club’s  size  is  an asset we all should be proud of and recognize that the more members we have, the more effective our club can be.