Melvin Jones was a young Chicago insurance man in 1917 and was serving as secretary of The Business Circle, a men's luncheon group devoted to promoting the business interests of its members. Noting the growing apathy in this club, Jones asked: "What if these men who are successful because of their drive, intelligence and ambition were to be put to work helping improve their communities?"
This idea became a reality when, at his request, representatives of men's groups met in Chicago and on 7 June 1917, Lions Clubs International was officially launched. Under the leadership of Melvin Jones, who soon gave up his insurance agency to devote full time to Lionism, the organisation grew in numbers and in services. By 1927, membership stood to almost 60,000 and club strength reached 1,183. Canada and Mexico had become member nations and the organisation was truly international.
Lionism's dedication to aiding the blind grew out of a speech by Helen Keller at the 1925 International Convention when she challenged the Lions to become "Knights of the Blind in the crusade against darkness".
The Association continued to expand, both in numbers and in services. By the mid-50s, Lions clubs were active in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. The humanitarian and community service objectives of these clubs were well known. They were not social groups and no members was allowed to advance his business interests. The prestige of Lions clubs was based on their involvement in providing assistance to the sick, the needy, and the less fortunate and their willingness to take an active role in community leadership.
Beginning in 1917
In 1917, a Chicago business leader asked a simple and world-changing question – what if people put their talents to work improving their communities? Almost 100 years later, Lions Clubs International is the world's largest service club organization, with 1.3 million members and countless stories of Lions acting on the same simple idea: let's improve our communities.
That business leader was Melvin Jones. He convened an organizational meeting of clubs that formed Lions Clubs International on June 7, 1917, in Chicago. Later that year, Lions held the first national convention in Dallas and created a constitution, by-laws, objects and a code of ethics.
1920: Going International
Just three years later, Lions went international when we established the first club in Canada. Mexico followed in 1927. In the 1950s and 1960s international growth accelerated, with new clubs in Europe, Asia and Africa. 1925: Helen Keller and the "Crusade Against Darkness"
One of our earliest and most influential causes has been eradicating blindness. That began in 1925, when Helen Keller addressed the Lions Clubs International Convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, USA. She challenged us to become "knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness." Since then, we have worked tirelessly to fulfill her charge to aid the blind and visually impaired.
1945: Uniting Nations
The ideal of an international organization is exemplified by our enduring relationship with the United Nations. We were one of the first nongovernmental organizations invited to assist in the drafting of the United Nations Charter and have supported the work of the UN ever since.
1957: Establishing Youth Programs
In the late 1950s, we created the Leo Program to provide the youth of the world an opportunity for personal development and contribution. There are now more than 5,500 Leo clubs in more than 130 countries, with more than 140,000 Leos worldwide.
In 1990, we launched our most aggressive sight preservation effort, SightFirst. This US$215 million program aims to rid the world of preventable and reversible blindness by supporting desperately needed health care services. In 2008, Lions completed Campaign SightFirst II, which raised more than US$200 million to expand the program.
Today: Local and Global Service
Lions Clubs International grows stronger and extends our mission of service every day – in local communities, in all corners of the globe. In 2002, we were the first international service club to be granted permission to organize and operate clubs in mainland China. And in 2007, a Lions club was formed in Iraq. These clubs join an international network that has grown to include 45,000 clubs located in more than 200 countries across the globe.