Kiwanis International History

The first Kiwanis club was organized in Detroit, Michigan in 1914. The group received a charter from the state of Michigan on January 21, 1915… the day that is regarded as the birth date of Kiwanis.

Kiwanis was created by a professional organizer named Allen Simpson Browne. His concept for the new organization included the exchange of business among members. However, the Detroit club had been organized only a few weeks when the members became involved with their first service project. During the next five years, Kiwanians would debate the basic purpose of the organization: mutual business exchange or community service.

The name “Kiwanis” was coined from an expression of the American Indians in the Detroit area. The expression “Nunc Kee-wan-nis” meant, broadly, “we trade” or “we share our talents.” As a word, however, “Kiwanis” has no meaning except as the name of a leading International Service club.

Kiwanis conventions began when the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland invited representatives of other clubs to meet there in May 1916. At that time, just 16 months after the Detroit No. 1 club was chartered, there were a total of 16 clubs with 1924 members. A Kiwanis International convention has been held every year since then, except 1943-45 due to wartime travel restrictions.

Kiwanis became International with the organization of the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, in November 1916. However, the organizations official name, “Kiwanis Club,” was not changed to “Kiwanis International” until the so-called “Constitutional Convention” in Denver in 1924.

The first Kiwanis headquarters was opened in Chicago in 1918. In 1982 the office was moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, a site with lower costs and greater convenience than downtown Chicago.

Club delegates approved, in principle, the establishment of Kiwanis districts at the Providence convention in 1918. The purpose of Kiwanis districts is to promote communication and interchange between clubs and assist in carrying out the administrative responsibilities of Kiwanis International. Most of the original 29 districts were organized by the end of that year.

By 1919, the organization had changed its focus from business to service.

The first club in Kansas was the Kiwanis Club of Lawrence, Kansas in 1919.

The Kiwanis motto, “We Build,” was adopted in 1920. It was proposed by Roe Fulkerson, first editor of the Kiwanis Magazine, who later said, “God inspired me to write those two words – We Build. I am prouder of them than any other accomplishment in my life.”

85 years later in 2005, during the 90th anniversary of Kiwanis, delegates to the International Convention voted to adopt a new motto, “Serving the Children of the World,” to emphasize the primary focus over those nine decades and make a commitment for the years to come.

The 1924 Convention in Denver became known as the “Constitutional Convention.” In the process of finalizing a complete International Constitution and Bylaws, Kiwanis officially adopted the name Kiwanis International and the six permanent Objects.

The first Key Club (High School) was organized in Sacramento in 1925. The Key Club became an official program of K-Int. in 1942. (The first Key Club in Kansas was in Emporia, Ks. in 1947.)

The first Circle K (College) was organized in 1936. Circle K affairs are largely managed by its members, who hold annual conventions and elect officers at both the District and International levels each year.

Kiwanis International is the only service organization that builds leaders at every level – from the youngest K-Kids all the way through several youth and adult programs.

Kiwanis limited its membership to the United States and Canada until 1962 when worldwide expansion was approved. In April 1962 the Kiwanis Club of Tijuana, Mexico, became the first club to be organized outside the two founding nations.

Until 1987, Kiwanis was a male-only organization. But after years of debate and growing support, women’s membership was received overwhelmingly.

The impact of the decision was felt immediately with a membership increase of more than 3,000 women in Kiwanis clubs in the first six months, and thousands more joined Kiwanis ranks during the 1988-89 administrative year. The numbers are on the rise each year.

Each year, clubs sponsor nearly 150,000 service projects and raise more than 107 millon dollars…and with more than 21 million service hours.

In 1994, Kiwanis launched its first Worldwide Service Project, a $75 million campaign in partnership with UNICEF to eliminate Iodine Deficiency Disorders by the year 2000. IDD projects have been funded in 95 nations. The Kiwanis International Foundation has raised nearly $100 million to eliminate IDD worldwide.

There are beneficial opportunities from being a member in Kiwanis. A Member will gain respect and fellowship within the community and is also considered a community leader. Research shows adults still value community service and voluntarism. The corporate community is open to cause-related marketing projects and can react to the needs of its community.

Being a Kiwanis member can be a rewarding in many ways. The greatest gift you could ever give yourself as a person is the gratification in knowing you are contributing your help, time, and efforts to people, in and out of your community, who are in dire need. Raising funds to help the poor, participating in fellowship, and giving something back to your community are the highest levels of self-satisfaction you can encounter.