Melvin Jones is widely credited as the founder of the Lions Club, including on the Lions Club website. However, some feel the honor should be given to Dr. William P. Woods of Evansville, Indiana. He founded the "Royal Order of Lions" as a fraternal organization and secret society in 1911. He later disbanded that and re-formed it as a service club in 1915. By June 1917, there were some 27 clubs in existence [source: Liberty Indiana Lions].
That same year, Jones began contacting other business clubs to create a network of service clubs across the U.S. Jones, a Chicago insurance broker, wanted to expand the reach of a local business club he belonged to by merging with similar groups across the country. In October 1917, delegates from those groups, including Woods, met in Dallas for a national convention, during which they drafted a constitution, bylaws, objects and a code of ethics [source: The Extra Mile].
Three years later, Lions Clubs expanded into Canada, becoming an international organization. By 1927, 60,000 members in 1,183 clubs were performing charitable services in communities all over the world.
In 1945, Lions Clubs was one of the first NGOs to help draft the charter that created the United Nations. Since then, Lions Clubs International has continued an amicable and supportive relationship with the UN.
In 1957, the first Leo Program -- the youth division of Lions Clubs -- was established by a baseball coach at Abington High School in Pennsylvania. There are now 7,000 Leo Clubs in 140 countries that do community service projects like collecting food and clothes for needy children, repairing playgrounds and starting after-school tutoring programs [source: Lions Club].
In 1990, Lions Clubs launched SightFirst, its biggest sight preservation campaign, raising $346 million to pay for cataract surgeries, expand eye hospitals and clinics, distribute sight-saving medication and train eye care professionals across the world. With plans to expand the program, the Lions Clubs raised more than $200 million in 2005 for SightFirst II [source: Lions Clubs].
Read on to find out more about what Lions are doing at home and abroad.