Swimming was no idyllic summer pursuit in feudal Japan: army warriors were trained to swim, and while wearing heavy armor at that. A well-trained samurai was expected to go seventy-five yards underwater in a single breath. In the U.S., the promotion of physical education was first taken up by a Boston school chartered in the middle of the 18th century, whose founder wrote “Games and healthful sports, promoting hilarity and securing a just degree of exercise, are to be encouraged.” Despite the backing of the school, physical education, and particularly swimming were not considered serious academic pursuit until Francis Lieber.
On this day, July 23, in 1827, Francis Lieber, a German-born philosopher and gymnast, at the invitation of the Boston Gymnasium introduced the first swim school in the United States. But the idea was still too novel to take hold: it lasted only two years before shutting down for lack of support.
The idea of school curricula including exercises of the the body as well as the mind came the ancient world and took hold in the modern one particularly in Germany. It was a German-language instructor in Harvard who first brought it to the United States, opening a private gymnasium at the school in a full two years before Francis Lieber.