The History of Swimming Pools

Marina Bay Sands' infinity-edge pool
Marina Bay Sands hotel's infinity-edge pool.

Cultura RM Exclusive / Getty Images

Swimming pools, at least man-made watering holes for bathing and swimming, go back at least as far as 2600 B.C.E. The first elaborate construction are probably The Great Baths of Mohenjodaro, an ancient and elaborate bathing site in Pakistan made from bricks and covered in plaster, with terraced decks that wouldn’t look out of place in a modern pool landscape. Mohenjodaro probably wasn’t used for general lap swimming, however. Scholars believe it was used in religious ceremonies.

Ancient Pools

More man-made pools surfaced throughout the ancient world. In Rome and Greece, swimming was part of the education of elementary age boys and the Romans built the first swimming pools (separate from bathing pools). 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—he supported the famous poets Horace, Virgil, and Propertius, making it possible for them to live and write without fear of poverty.

Growth in Popularity

However, swimming pools did not become popular until the middle of the 19th century. By 1837, six indoor pools with diving boards were built in London, England. After the modern Olympic Games began in 1896 and swimming races were among the original events, the popularity of swimming pools began to spread

According to the book Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming in America, the Cabot Street Bath in Boston was the first swimming pool in the U.S. It opened in 1868 and served a neighborhood where most of the homes did not have baths.

In the 20th century, a number of leaps in science and technology took swimming pools to a new level. Among the developments, chlorination and filtration systems that delivered clean water into the pool. Prior to these developments, the only way to clean a pool was to remove and replace all the water.

Technological Advancements

In the U.S. the pool business expanded with the invention of gunite, a material that allowed faster installation, more flexible designs, and lower costs than previous methods. The post-war rise of the middle-case, coupled with the relative affordability of pools accelerated pool proliferation even further.

There were even less expensive options than gunite. In 1947, above ground pool kits hit the market, creating an entirely new pool experience. It wasn’t long before single unit pools would be sold and installed in a single day.  

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Swimming Pools." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 27). The History of Swimming Pools. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Swimming Pools." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).