The History of Swimming Pools

Since ancient times, societies have had a fascination with pools. They were centers for local elites to socialize and make business deals, or simply a way to escape the scorching heat. Modern construction concepts that are used today to build a simple home pool, were considered groundbreaking feats of engineering in ancient times. Here is some information on the history of swimming pools:

Where Did the Swimming Pool Originate?

 

The ancient site of the Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro in modern day Sindhu province, Pakistan. 

The history of swimming pools begins with what we believe to be the first swimming pool. This swimming pool was built over 5,000 years ago in the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Pakistan, where it is an archaeological treasure and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. ‘The Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro’ is the earliest water tank recorded in ancient civilization. 

Its design was extremely sophisticated for the time, featuring an intricate bathing site made from hand-cut bricks and terraced desks. The pool itself was coated in plaster to keep the water from seeping out. 

Historians have speculated that this Great Bath was likely closed to the general public. It is probably that it was strictly used for religious ceremonies and purification rituals. The Great Bath had a series of rooms and a built-in well that likely stored the water used to fill its tank.

Who Invented Swimming Pools?

When we look back at the history of swimming pools, although we don’t have a specific person who invented swimming pools, as mentioned above we know that the first swimming pool was believed to be invented in Pakistan. However, what we do know is that the first heated swimming pool was built by Gaius Maecenas of Rome in the 1st century BC. Maecenas was a rich Roman lord and considered one of the first patrons of arts. This pool was supposedly beautiful with gardens, terraces, and other luxury decors.

Ancient Swimming Pools

In Ancient Rome, an increase in wealth enabled citizens to have more access to luxury items, such as swimming pools. For thousands of years, water played an important role in daily life and as a result, pools were built for a range of purposes. Pools were built not only to enhance the beauty of the property but to be used for bathing, religious ceremonies and socializing. 

In 305 A.D., the Romans built an incredible bath that was over 900,000 square feet, which served as a giant public pool for its citizens. During this time, pools were also a part of the military and education systems. The Roman military used pools to train for war, readying soldiers for battles in swampy or oceanic terrains.

The Greek philosopher Plato even preached that every child must learn to swim as a part of their education along with mathematics, writing, and astronomy. Ancient Rome idolized the Greek society it had conquered and emulated many of their traditions within their society.

 

 Example of an ancient Roman bath in southern England.

When did Pools Become Popular?

Swimming did not become popular until the middle of the 19th century and happened alongside the rise of competitive swimming. In the mid-19th century, the National Swimming Society of Great Britain introduced swimming competitions. These races inspired an increase in the popularity of swimming pools. 

The types of swimming strokes used in this time period were the sidestroke and the breaststroke. In 1873, the front crawl was introduced to Britain. This enhanced speeds and made competitive swimming exciting. By making improvements to the front crawl, either by different kicks or ratios of kicks this introduced the freestyle stroke to the world of competitive swimming. 

Other features of the swimming pool that became popular were diving boards. In fact, as early as 1837, indoor pools with diving boards were popular in London, U.K.

After the first modern Olympics in Athens, 1896, swim meets became featured events across Britain and led to a national desire to own a private pool.

History of Swimming Pools in the 1900s

Another milestone in the history of swimming pools is that one of the first-in ground swimming pools built in the United States (known as the Deep Eddy Pool) was found in Austin, Texas. The Deep Eddy Pool was built during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration. Today, Deep Eddy remains a popular swimming destination and is operated by the City of Austin.

The first above ground pool in the U.S. dates back to 1907 and was built by the Philadelphia Racquet Club. In 1979, the clubhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Another milestone for the history of swimming pools was the first swimming pool to literally cross the Atlantic Ocean was installed on the Adriatic cruise ship from White Star Lines in 1907. Most notably, there was also a swimming pool in the Adriatic’s sister ship, The Titanic. 

When was Chlorine First Used in Pools?

In the past chlorine was used as a germicide to prevent the spread of “childbed fever” in the maternity wards of Vienna General Hospital in Austria in 1847. However, in 1910, Brown University began using chlorine to clean its swimming pool. 

This was the first time anyone had attempted chlorine sanitation for swimming pools in the US. Following this, a number of filtration systems for pools were also developed.  Before these developments, the only way to clean a pool was to remove and replace all the water (sounds like a lot of work)

History of Swimming Pools After World War II

At the end of World War II, the popularity of swimming pools was at an all-time high due to the growing sprawl of suburbs. A lavish pool tucked into a perfectly kept backyard became a symbol of the American Dream.

The increase in privately owned swimming pools was made possible through the creation of pneumatically placed concrete, or ‘gunite’.  The first gunite swimming pools appeared before 1940, which enabled the construction of pools to be quick and cost-effective. After World War II, the savings generated by gunite became a catalyst for the expansion of swimming pools across North America.

Modern Swimming Pools

Swimming pools are now completely mainstream and can be found in every single country around the world. New developments have given them a range of styles and features that go beyond simply swimming. They continue to be used for leisure as well as for competitive swimming. 

 

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