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the  history  of  men's  rowing

By Rebecca Sedlak

Want to learn more about rowing? This timeline brings you the details of how men’s rowing got to be the sport it is today.

1430 BC – An Egyptian funerary carving for Pharaoh Amenhotep (Amenophis) II records that the king was celebrated for his prowess as a rower, wielding an oar 30 feet long and rowing six times faster than other crew members – though this may be an exaggeration.

9 BC – Virgil’s Aeneid includes rowing as one of Aeneas’ funeral games.

1274 – Venice’s first documentation of “regatta.” With the city’s transportation dependent on waterways, Venice became the center for medieval and Renaissance water festivals. Regular boat races were included in the regatta by 1315. 

1474 – The Lord Mayor of London is elected every year in November, and on the day after taking office, the Lord Mayor proceeds with a public parade to Westminster to swear allegiance to the sovereign. The procession occurred for the first time on the River Thames in 1474, and the next four hundred years of gilt barges and colorful ceremony added interest to boating and other aquatic activities in England. 

17th Century – Until the mid-18th century, London Bridge was the only bridge over the River Thames, and it was slow and difficult to cross. Many people crossed the river in London by using the services of Thames watermen, a ferry taxi-service. Watermen began competing with each other, and members of the gentry began betting on races. 

1715 – Thought to be the oldest continuing sporting contest in the world, Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race is named after Thomas Doggett, an Irish actor who worked in London and lived in Chelsea. He regularly used the Watermen of the Thames to cross the river and was inspired to hold a race, with a coat and silver badge as prize, on August 1, 1715 to commemorate the anniversary of the ascension of King George I. The boat race has been an annual event ever since. 

1756 – First recorded American boat race in New York harbor takes place.

1793 – The first recorded Procession of the Boats takes place at Eaton, a leading British boy’s private school. Boys from different master’s houses compete in rowing for pleasure, exercise or competition. 

1815 – Oxford University founds its rowing team, the first college boat club ever.

1823 – The American Knickerbocker Club is founded, the first boat club organized in the United States. 

1829 – Cambridge challenges Oxford to the first Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. The idea came from Cambridge’s Charles Merivale and Oxford’s Charles Wordsworth (nephew of poet William Wordsworth), who had been friends at Harrow, a boy’s private school. The race continues to this day. As of 2010, Cambridge had won 80 races to Oxford’s 75 wins. 

1839 – The first Henley Royal Regatta is held, staged as a public fair in a single afternoon by the Mayor and people of Henley, England. Held annually ever since, the prestigious Henley has expanded to a five-day rowing competition. 

1852 – Yale challenges Harvard to the first Harvard-Yale Regatta, the oldest intercollegiate race in the United States. Yale established its boat club in 1843, and Harvard established its own a year later. The race continues to this day.

1854 - Under the pseudonym Oliver Optic, William Taylor Adams writes “The Boat Club,” a children’s fiction book about a group of boys who work together for rowing exercise and competition. The book became one of the most influential children’s books of the 19th century, and Adams wrote five sequels because of its popularity. 

1863 – Boat clubs are created in Austria, Italy and Switzerland. Clubs are established two years later in Denmark, Japan and Portugal.

1887 – Allen & Ginter, a Virginia tobacco company, releases the first set of sports cards as premiums in cigarette packs. The 50-card set, called N28, featured professional baseball, rowing, wrestling, boxing and other athletes. Rowing and baseball had the most cards at 10 each. 

1892 – The International Rowing Federation (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron or FISA) is founded. The governing body for international rowing manages such competitions as Rowing World Cup and the World Rowing Championships. 

1900 – Rowing makes its Olympic debut at the Paris Olympic Games. Four races were held: single sculls, coxed pairs, coxed fours and eights. The United States won the gold medal in the eights event. Rowing had been scheduled at the first Olympics in Athens in 1896, but poor weather conditions cancelled the competition. The sport has been in the Olympic Games ever since and is the only team sport to have such a continuous record. 

1962 – The first World Rowing Championships, organized by FISA, is held. It is a week-long event at the end of summer. The competition occurred every four years until 1974 when it switched to an annual contest.

1965 – The Head Of The Charles Regatta is held for the first time in Boston. Today the race is the world’s largest two-day rowing event, attracting up to 300,000 spectators along the Charles River in October each year. More than 8,000 athletes from different countries participate in 55 racing events. 

1982 – The United States Rowing Association (USRowing) is formed by merging the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen, founded in 1872, and the National Women’s Rowing Association, established in the early 1960s. USRowing is the United States’ national governing body for the sport of rowing. The nonprofit organization trains and manages the US rowing teams who race in international competitions, including the World Rowing Championships and the Olympics. 

1984 – British rower Sir Steve Redgrave wins his first gold medal for coxed fours at the Los Angeles Olympics. He went on to receive five gold medals for rowing in consecutive Olympics from 1984 to 2000, one of only four Olympians to have ever done so. Redgrave also won nine gold medals at the World Rowing Championships from 1986 to 1998. 

1997 – The Rowing World Cup is founded by the FISA. It comprises three international regattas held throughout the early summer.