Drawings from the Stone Age were found in "the cave of swimmers" near Sura in the southwestern part of Egypt. Written references date back up to 2000 B.C. In 1538 Nicolas Wynman, German professor of languages, wrote the first swimming book. Competitive swimming in Europe started around 1800, mostly using breaststroke. The front crawl, then called the trudgen was introduced in 1873 by John Arthur Trudgen, copying it from Native Americans.

Swimming was part of the first modern 1896 Summer Olympics games in Athens. In 1900 backstroke was included as an Olympic Event. In 1902 the trudgen was improved by Richard Cavill, using the flutter kick. In 1908, the world swimming association Federation Internationale de Natation was formed. Butterfly stroke was first a variant of Breaststroke, until it was accepted as a separate style in 1952.