No, we don’t make toasters!
From a humble beginning in 1924 at the YMCA in Santa Ana, California, Toastmasters International has grown to become a world leader in helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. The nonprofit organization now has nearly 235,000 members in 12,036 clubs in 106 countries, offering a proven – and enjoyable! – way to practice and hone communication and leadership skills.
Most Toastmasters meetings are comprised of approximately 20 people who meet weekly for an hour or two. Participants practice and learn skills by filling a meeting role, ranging from giving a prepared speech or an impromptu one to serving as timer, evaluator or grammarian.
There is no instructor; instead, each speech and meeting is critiqued by a member in a positive manner, focusing on what was done right and what could be improved.
Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. Our membership is 313,000 strong. Members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 14,650 clubs in 126 countries that make up our global network of meeting locations.
The world needs leaders. Leaders head families, coach teams, run businesses and mentor others. These leaders must not only accomplish, they must communicate. By regularly giving speeches, gaining feedback, leading teams and guiding others to achieve their goals in a supportive atmosphere, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program. Every Toastmasters journey begins with a single speech. During their journey, they learn to tell their stories. They listen and answer. They plan and lead. They give feedback—and accept it. Through our community of learners, they find their path to leadership.
We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.
Toastmasters International Values
Toastmasters International Envisioned Future
To be the first-choice provider of dynamic, high-value, experiential communication and leadership skills development.
Toastmasters began as a series of speaking clubs organized by Ralph C. Smedley during his time working for the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in Bloomington, Illinois, United States. As director of education at the YMCA, Smedley saw a need for the men in the community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees, and he wanted to help them.
Smedley decided to organize a club where they could learn these skills in a social environment, and the men responded well to the concept. He named the group the Toastmasters Club; “toastmaster” was a popular term that referred to a person who gave toasts at banquets and other occasions.
The first unofficial Toastmasters meeting was held on March 24, 1905. Much like Toastmasters meetings today, the participants took turns leading and speaking at each meeting. Smedley and the older, more experienced men evaluated short speeches, while the younger men were invited to join in the evaluations. However, as Smedley was offered positions at other YMCAs in Illinois and later, in San Jose, California, the fledgling clubs lacked leadership and did not flourish.
The Forming of Toastmasters International
Smedley began working at the newly organized YMCA in Santa Ana, California, in 1922, and for the first two years, his time was spent building a home for the organization. However, his passion to help others learn to speak and lead remained. Once the new YMCA building was christened in April of 1924, he was able to introduce the idea of Toastmasters to his colleagues, and organize the Toastmasters club that eventually became Club No. 1 of Toastmasters International. The first meeting was held at the YMCA building on October 22, 1924. Word spread about Smedley’s Toastmasters clubs and soon people in surrounding communities and other states were asking how they could start their own club.
To save time replying to the many letters and inquiries he was receiving, Smedley wrote the “Manual of Instructions” and “Ten Lessons in Public Speaking,” which he had printed and bound in paper covers. On October 25, 1928, he secured copyrights on the publications and trademarked the name “Toastmasters Club.”
By 1930, nearly 30 Toastmasters clubs had formed including a club in British Columbia, Canada. To reflect expansion outside of the United States, the newly formed association was re-named Toastmasters International. Two years later, in 1932, Toastmasters International was incorporated as a California non-profit organization and Smedley took on the positions of Secretary and Editor of the new association.
He resigned as YMCA Secretary in 1941 to devote more time to Toastmasters. Through the war years, he operated the organization out of a small office. When the war ended, a new Secretary, Ted Blanding, replaced Smedley and remained active as Educational Director for the rest of his life, as well as a permanent member of the Board of Directors.
The Growth of Toastmasters International
A series of rented office spaces in Southern California served as Toastmasters International’s headquarters until 1962, when the staff moved into the first World Headquarters building in Santa Ana, not far from the YMCA where the first Toastmasters club met.
Ralph C. Smedley died in 1965. In 1970, Toastmasters International admitted its first female member, Helen Blanchard, under the name Homer Blanchard. In 1973, Toastmasters began officially admitting women, and in 1985, Helen became Toastmasters’ first female international president.
Terrence McCann, an Olympic wrestler, was chosen in 1975 to serve as the Executive Director of Toastmasters International, a position he held until 2001. He was replaced by Donna Groh (2001–2008) and then Daniel Rex (2008 to present).
PIP Oral History Interviews
Toastmasters Past International Presidents share highlights from their toastmasters experience.