History of Pools
The “Great Bath” at the site of Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Pakistan was most likely the first swimming pool, dug during the 3rd millennium BC. This pool is 12 by 7 metres (39 by 23 feet), is lined with bricks and was covered with a tar-based sealant.
Ancient Greeks and Romans built artificial pools for athletic training in the palaestras, for nautical games and for military exercises. Roman emperors had private swimming pools in which fish were also kept, hence one of the Latin words for a pool, piscina. The first heated swimming pool was built by Gaius Maecenas of Rome in the first century BC. Gaius Maecenas was a rich Roman lord and considered one of the first patrons of arts.
Ancient Sinhalese built pairs of pools called “Kuttam Pokuna” in the kingdom of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka in the 4th century BC. They were decorated with flights of steps, punkalas or pots of abundance and scroll design.
Swimming pools became popular in Britain in the mid-19th century. As early as 1837, six indoor pools with diving boards existed in London, England. The Maidstone Swimming Club in Maidstone, Kent, England is believed to be the oldest surviving swimming club in Britain. It was formed in 1844, in response to concerns over drownings in the River Medway, especially since would-be rescuers would often drown because they themselves could not swim to safety. The club used to swim in the River Medway, and would hold races, diving competitions and water polo matches. The South East Gazette July 1844 reported an aquatic breakfast party: coffee and biscuits were served on a floating raft in the river. The coffee was kept hot over a fire; club members had to tread water and drink coffee at the same time. The last swimmers managed to overturn the raft, to the amusement of 150 spectators.
In 1839, Oxford created its first major public indoor pool at Temple Cowley, and swimming began to increase in popularity. The Amateur Swimming Association was founded in 1869 in England, and the Oxford Swimming Club in 1909 with its home at Temple Cowley Pool. The presence of indoor baths in the cobbled area of Merton Street, London may have persuaded the less hardy of the aquatic brigade to join. So, bathers gradually became swimmers, and bathing pools became swimming pools.
The modern Olympic Games started in 1896 and included swimming races, after which the popularity of swimming pools began to spread. In the USA, the Racquet Club of Philadelphia clubhouse (1907) boasts one of the world’s first modern above-ground swimming pools. The first swimming pool to go to sea on an ocean liner was installed on the White Star Line‘s Adriatic in 1907. The oldest known public swimming pool in America, Underwood Pool, is located in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Interest in competitive swimming grew following World War I. Standards improved and training became essential. Home swimming pools became popular in the United States after World War II and the publicity given to swimming sports by Hollywood films like Esther Williams‘ Million Dollar Mermaid made a home pool a desirable status symbol. More than fifty years later, the home or residential swimming pool is a common sight. Some small nations enjoy a thriving swimming pool industry (e.g. New Zealand pop. 4,116,900 [Source NZ Census 7 March 2006] – holds the record in pools per capita with 65,000 home swimming pools and 125,000 spa pools).