Evidence of recreational swimming in prehistoric times has been found, with the earliest evidence dating to Stone Agepaintings from around 10000 years ago. Written references date from 2000 BC, with some of the earliest references to swimming including the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible, Beowulf, the Quran and others. In 1538, Nikolaus Wynmann, a German professor of languages, wrote the first swimming book, The Swimmer or A Dialogue on the Art of Swimming (Der Schwimmer oder ein Zweigespräch über die Schwimmkunst).
Swimming emerged as a competitive recreational activity in the 1830s in England. In 1828, the first indoor swimming pool, St George’s Baths was opened to the public. By 1837, the National Swimming Society was holding regular swimming competitions in six artificial swimming pools, built around London. The recreational activity grew in popularity and by 1880, when the first national governing body, the Amateur Swimming Association, was formed, there were already over 300 regional clubs in operation across the country.
In 1844 two Native American participants at a swimming competition in London introduced the front crawl to a Western audience. Sir John Arthur Trudgen picked up the hand-over stroke from some South American natives and successfully debuted the new stroke in 1873, winning a local competition in England. His stroke is still regarded as the most powerful to use today.