On February 23, 1905, Chicago lawyer Paul Harris met with a coal dealer, merchant tailor and mining engineer in room 711 of the city's Unity Building and the Rotary club was born.

Each with a different profession, they realised they could pool their skills and expertise for the good of their community.

In 1907, the club celebrated the completion of its first project to have public conveniences built outside Chicago City Hall.

Little did they know their idea would be the start of a world-wide movement with more than 1.2 million members in 31,200 Rotary clubs, spread over 166 countries.

In the North-East alone - district 1030 - there are more than 2,000 dedicated Rotarians in 70 clubs stretching from Berwick to Middlesbrough.

Rotary is the only non-political movement with a representative on the United Nations and has grown so much in number and stature that breakaway groups have formed.

The Inner Wheel was started by the wives and female relatives of members, Rotoract is for 18 to 30-year-olds and Interact for under-18s.

Bearing in mind the Rotary motto, Service Above Self, clubs around the world will commemorate the centenary year by pumping extra effort into humanitarian causes at home and abroad.

Among those efforts will be a continued drive to eradicate polio.

Since making the promise to beat polio in 1986, Rotarians the world over have raised more than £300m to provide vaccines. Members have even given up their time and energy to administer the jabs during national immunisation days.

In that time, cases of reported polio have dropped by 98 per cent, with only inaccessible areas of war-torn and developing countries still battling one of the worst diseases known to mankind.

The movement now hopes to rid Tanzania of the debilitating illness malaria, which kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds. It is raising funds to build medical centres and buy drugs, nets and insecticides.

Clubs in the North-East are leading the way with a project to give impoverished communities Aquafilter systems, made in Sunderland, to purify drinking water.

District governor Syd Howarth said: "Rotary is extending all the time, from Darlington to China.

"It is very much a modern movement based on Paul Harris' principles.

"But it is changing with the times. We make valuable contributions to our local communities, with specific projects and supporting local charities, and the global community.

"What Rotary has done - and our intentions for the future - stand on their own merit."