About Us

The History of the Shrine

You have probably seen a group of men wearing hats that look like overturned red flowerpots. Look a little closer at those hats and you will see strange, vaguely Middle-Eastern-sounding names like Wahabi,  Zoran, Hadji, El Bekel, Syria, Ben Ali, and Abdallah, spelled out in glittering rhinestones. If you live in a moderate-size town, you may have seen the Shrine Circus.  You may have been driving down the interstate and passed a semi with an ad on the back, depicting a man carrying a young girl in one hand and her crutches in the other.

All these images come from one source: the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The Shriners owns and operates 22 hospitals across North America, providing no-cost burn, spinal cord, and orthopedic care to children. What you may not know is that each and every one of those Shriners is also a Freemason.

The Shrine is another appendant body of Freemasonry and it is arguably the most popular. Its mission is very simple: TO HAVE FUN AND HELP CHILDREN! 

The Shrine has often been called the “playground of Freemasonry.” Before a man can become a Shriner, he must become a Freemason. In fact, if you look carefully at the full name – Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine – you can rearrange the letters A.A.O.N.M.S. and spell “A MASON.”

Today, there are close to 500,000 members of the Shrine and 191 Shrine centers or chapters, in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Panama.  The Shrine is largely unheard of outside of North America and Panama, except for a few Clubs of American Shriners living overseas. 

Until the late 1990’s, before being allowed to join the Shrine, Masons were required to join a local lodge, receive their three Blue Lodge degrees, and also join either the Scottish Rite or the York Rite and complete their degree work. That policy has changed: today's candidates for the Shrine are required only to be a Master Mason. Still, it’s important to understand that the Shrine is not a Masonic Organization it does not confer any degree that continues or enlarges on the Masonic degrees. It’s simply an organization that requires Masonic lodge membership as a prerequisite for joining.

In the mid-1800's in the United States Masonic Lodges the gradual removal of intoxicating liquor was occurring. Even though the fraternity of Freemasonry had begun in taverns and ale-houses. By the 1850’s most Grand Lodges had outlawed booze in the lodges. The local lodges, as well as the York and Scottish Rite Commanders and Temples, had become dry establishments, concentrating more on the conferral of degrees and the development of ritual and symbolism than on convivial brotherhood and fun.  Masonic halls became solemn places of introspection. Masons had to go to the local bar, restaurant, or private club for their old-style feasts and toasting.

In, 1870, a group of New York City Masons met regularly for lunch at the Knickerbocker Cottage, a restaurant on Sixth Avenue. They had a regular table and had a reputation for being an especially boisterous group of men. They felt that the lodge had become too stodgy and too wrapped up in ritual, and had lost a lot of the fun and fellowship Masonry once had. Dr. Walter Fleming and a traveling actor named Billy Florence decided to do something about it.

They  wrote up an initiation ritual, devised exotic titles for the officers’  positions, and came up with the greeting phrase of the Order based on an Arabic saying, Est Salami Allium!, which  means, “Peace be with you!”

In 1872, the little group of friends declared themselves to be the charter members of the Mecca Temple of the Ancient Arabic order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, and Dr. Fleming was elected as the First Potentate.


In 1919 an outbreak of polio struck the United States. We don't think of polio much today, because the last three generations of Americans have been vaccinated against the virus. But it killed 6,000 people in the United States and left 27,000 paralyzed. In its aftermath, a huge part of the population, many of them children, needed orthopedic care. In 1920, the Shrine’s Imperial Session voted to assess members $2 a year to build the first Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children, in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The rules were simple. Care was provided a no cost for any child under 14 (and later, 18) whose family was unable to pay. There was no restriction based on race, religion, color, or national origin – the only requirement was that there had to be a chance of being able to improve the child’s condition.

Since 1920, a total of 22 Shriners Hospitals have been built, all retaining the same criteria for admission: There is still no charge to the family for care. The orthopedic care was increased over the years, and in 1962, the system expanded to treat severe burns. In 1980, it was expanded again to provide spinal cord rehabilitation. Shriners Hospitals have been at the forefront in research for this kind of care and have developed new methods of treatment, as well as made advances in the development of artificial limbs and other prosthetics. The research costs alone come to $25 million a year, and Shriners spend $1,600,000 a day on the hospitals.

In 1996, because of the expanding range of services and treatments, the Shrine officially changed the name of the system to Shriners Hospitals for Children. It is referred to today as the “greatest philanthropy in the world." Shriners Hospital for Children helps so many that cannot help themselves.  

So if your around town and see the men with the funny red upside down flowerpot hats, stop and say hello, or if it does not cause material injury to yourself. Make a donation it is for a great cause!