A Brief History of Swimming

Even though we don’t know exactly when people started swimming, it is assumed that swimming has been around for thousands of years. This isn’t surprising at all – just look at how babies are able to swim without any conscious training. It really seems as if this is in our blood. However, it wasn’t until the 1800s that people started competing and treating swimming as a sport and not just as a fun activity. Since then, swimming has gone through many changes, many techniques have been invented and various rules implemented. Now, swimming is one of the most popular sports in the world.

Crossing the English Channel 

One of the first important events in swimming history happened in 1875. Matthew Webb managed to swim across the English Channel,  from Dover to Calais, without any artificial aids. This feat, which he accomplished in less than 22 hours, made him legendary among swimmers of that time, and a celebrity even now. This was very important for swimming as a sport because seeing something so extraordinary made the public more interested in the sport and other swimmers more inspired to beat his record.

Modern Olympic 

1896 was the year when swimming debuted in the modern Olympic games. However, the race looked very different from what we know now. For example, at that time, only men competed in these races since women weren’t allowed to compete. Moreover, the races weren’t organized in pools like they are now but in open water – in 1896 it was the Mediterranean Sea, and in 1900, the Seine River. Nevertheless, this was one of the key moments in swimming history and the Olympic games wouldn’t be the same without this sport.

The evolution of freestyle

In the early stages of swimming as a professional sport, there was only breaststroke. Even Matthew Webb crossed the English Channel with breaststroke. However, in 1902, new styles began to appear. Richard Cavill is often mentioned when it comes to the invention of freestyle as he was the first one to swim by kicking legs up and down and rotating arms. Since he was Australian, this style was first named the ‘Australian crawl’. Another popular name connected to the evolution of freestyle and its early stages is Johnny Weissmuller.

Women start making records

Like we mentioned before, women were not really a big part of the swimming world in its early years, at least not professional swimming. They started competing in the Olympics in 1912 and managed to prove that they deserve to have their place in the record books. One of the best swimmers of that time, among women and men, was certainly Gertrude Ederle. When she was only 19 years old, she managed to swim across the English Channel and she did it faster than any man before her. 


In the 1930s, more and more people were trying to discover new ways in which you could swim faster and more efficiently. David Armbruster and Jack Sieg managed to come up with a new style of swimming by combining many different aspects of the already existing styles and so, the butterfly stroke was born.