Castle with Pool

The Historic Rise of Swimming Pools

Swimming has been around for as long as people have had access to water. Originally, the very sea our ancestors crawled from was the Great Pool of the world, along with the lakes, rivers and ponds that served for what we’ve since replaced with our manmade watering holes.

The first known man-made pools were presumably the best parts of the ancient world, with empires like the Roman one first realizing that a body of water under man’s control was the most convenient kind to swim in. But then the dark ages descended, and as humanity sank into warfare and superstition, the pools were forgotten.

Fortunately, the industrial revolution brought pooldom roaring back from obscurity, and eventually into the backyards of the common man. The British began building pools for competitive swimming in the early 19th century, and it wasn’t long before leisure joined sport as a perfectly good reason to fill a hole with H2O. By the time the 20th century dawned, the United States had constructed its first public and private pools, the ones that would benefit most from what would come to be called America’s Century.

It was around the turn of the century that the pool world’s most important innovations came to be: filtration and chlorination. Originally developed for reasons of public health and sanitation, these technologies would take leisure swimming to the next level, and birth an industry that has come to define summer.

With clean, safe water being readily available to anyone within reach of a faucet, swimming pools, both public and private, sprung up rapidly around the nation. Sporting clubs like the Philadelphia Racquet Club featured pools as innovative draws for members, while pools like the Venetian Pool in Coral Gables flaunted the aesthetic possibilities of the American pool renaissance.

It wasn’t until the post-war period that pools became something the average American could aspire to own. However, before then, pools were almost exclusively the privilege of wealthy elites like publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, whose Hearst Castle in California featured elaborate pools as an advertisement of his wealth, power, and the ability to consume conspicuously.

Shortly before Pearl Harbor, the first pools were constructed using gunite, a form of pneumatically blasted concrete invented by taxidermist Carl Akeley at the beginning of the century. Once the war was on, this miraculous stuff was used by the military and others to quickly repair damaged buildings, bridges, dams and other infrastructure in the aftermath (or even heat) of battle. As its use increased, so did demand. The explosion of American middle class prosperity that resulted from the government’s GI Bill did for pools what it did for…well, everything.

Home ownership, education, and disposable income became part and parcel of the average Joe’s way of life. Soon enough, pool manufacturers began approaching the suburbs, gunite in hand, to lay down their creations.

It wasn’t long before an entire culture arose around American pool ownership, supporting an entire industry that continues to this day. Creative shapes like the kidney design, impressive landscaping, and various other bells and whistles soon blossomed across the nation’s backyards, led by aesthetic innovators like landscape architect Thomas Church, who famously devoted himself to the artistic elevation of the suburbs beyond their boxy and conformist feel. The pool became the vehicle by which suburbanites could express their individual taste and so altered the vinyl-sided landscape forever.

Fast forward to present day. Where everything from underwater lighting and temperature control, to complex fountains and elaborate patio decor are achievable. These are enjoyable facts of life for those among us fortunate enough to bask in the glory of pool ownership. It’s been a long road, but it’s been a beautiful one, and the sky is truly the limit.

Share your pool ownership history with us by building your dream pool or renovating the ones you have.  We’d love to hear about it!