Allen S. Browne, a professional organizer for fraternal groups, has an idea for a new kind of club and begins recruiting business and professional men in Detroit, Michigan. Joe Prance, a merchant tailor, is the first to sign up and becomes “the first Kiwanian.” Browne’s proposed name for the group, the Benevolent Order Brothers, is rejected, however. As one member commented, “Who wants to belong to an organization called BOB?” A committee consults with a local historian, who tells them about a phrase in the local American Indian language: Nunc Kee-wanis, which means, approximately, “We get together” or “We trade.” The club adopts an abbreviated version of this phrase, Kiwanis.
January 21 becomes the official birthday of Kiwanis when the Detroit group receives a corporate charter from the State of Michigan. Membership in the Detroit #1 club quickly grows to more than 200. A second club is organized in Cleveland. Both the Detroit and Cleveland Kiwanians sponsor projects to benefit disadvantaged children — a service slant that will become an enduring theme of Kiwanis.
Thanks to Allen Browne’s energetic organizing and member contacts in other cities, Kiwanis grows to 32 clubs — including the Kiwanis Club of Hamilton, Ontario, “the club that made Kiwanis international.” The Cleveland club calls a convention. A basic constitution is adopted and George F. Hixson, Rochester, New York, is elected as the first International President.
Many more clubs are organized. The second annual convention is held in Detroit, and George Hixson is elected to a second term — the only International President to serve more than one year. A “K” with the words “Kiwanis Club” enclosed in a double circle becomes the official symbol. The first rumblings of discord are heard from two contending groups: those who support Allen Browne’s concept of an organization that provides mutual business benefits for members, and those who believe that Kiwanis’ long-term success depends on a higher ideal, community service.
Membership reaches 10,000. The first Kiwanis headquarters, a two-room office, is opened in Chicago, Illinois, with O. Sam Cummings serving as the first International Secretary. The convention is held in Providence, Rhode Island. Perry S. Patterson of Chicago is elected President.
The debate over the organization’s purpose, personal business advantage or community service, reaches a climax at the convention in Birmingham, Alabama. As a professional organizer, Browne owns rights in the organization. The anti-Browne majority offers to buy him out and Browne names his price: $17,500. Members and clubs quickly subscribe the sum on the convention floor. Kiwanis “buys itself” and service triumphs over mutual back-scratching. Henry J. Elliott, Montreal, Quebec, is the first Canadian President.
A record year for growth ends with 265 clubs and 28,500 members. The Kiwanis Motto, “We Build,” is proposed by Kiwanis Magazine editor Roe Fulkerson and adopted. Portland, Oregon, hosts the International Convention. J. Mercer Barnett, Birmingham, Alabama, is elected President.
Kiwanis officially adopts policies that emphasize community service in the areas of urban-rural cooperation, public affairs, and underprivileged children. O. Sam Cummings is succeeded by Fred C. W. Parker as International Secretary. The convention is in Cleveland, Ohio. Harry E. Karr, Baltimore, Maryland, is elected President.
Administrative policies are adopted to guide clubs in their activities. In later years, these will evolve into annual Themes and Objectives. Kiwanis observes US-Canada Day for the first time, which will later become Canada-US Goodwill Week, the oldest continuing Kiwanis observance. The first Kiwanis districts are formed. The convention is held in Toronto, and George H. Ross, Toronto, Ontario, is elected President.
Kiwanians donate $44,500 to finance a memorial to US President Warren G. Harding, a charter member of the Marion, Ohio, club. The convention is in Atlanta, Georgia. Edmund F. Arras, Columbus, Ohio, is elected President.
A constitutional convention is held in Denver, Colorado. A more detailed constitution is adopted, which creates the International Council (composed of the International Board members and District Governors) and defines the functions of major committees. The six Permanent Objects of Kiwanis are adopted, Kiwanis International becomes the official name. Victor M. Johnson, Rockford, Illinois, is elected President.
The Kiwanis Club of Sacramento sponsors a club for “key boys” in the local high school. This first Key Club will eventually grow into the world’s largest service club for high school students, but for the next decade the Key Club idea will spread slowly, at first in California and then other states (see 1939, 1946). The International Council meets for the first time and the new District Governors jointly plan their Kiwanis year. The Harding International Goodwill Memorial is dedicated in Vancouver, British Columbia. The convention is held in St. Paul, Minnesota. John H. Moss, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is elected President.
Membership nears 100,000. The Montreal convention is the largest to date, with 5,248 members from 1,546 clubs. Ralph A. Amerman, Scranton, Pennsylvania, is elected President.
Kiwanis service achievements become increasingly important, with youth work, public affairs, and rural-urban cooperation stressed. US Kiwanians join with Canadian members in celebrating the Dominion of Canada’s Diamond Jubilee. The International Board authorizes field service contacts to assess the problems and opportunities faced by local clubs. The convention is held in Memphis, Tennessee. Henry C. Heinz, Atlanta, Georgia, is elected President.