Swimming gained a lot of popularity in the 19th century in the US. Resorts started popping up in places like Atlantic City and New Jersey. These resorts had huge swimming pools and other recreational activities in the water to help people escape from the heat of the summer. However, as the popularity of swimming increased so did the incidence of drowning. The American Red Cross estimated that in the early twentieth century around 9000 humans drowned each year.
In order to solve the drowning predicament, these resorts installed lifelines. But, these lifelines were of no help because swimmers were unable to get a hold of them. After lifelines, came rescue boards. Duke Kahanamoku was one of Hawaii’s first watermen. He introduced the rescue board around 1915.
Some other communities decided to assign police officers to rescue drowning people from the water. However, using police officers proved to be a problem because it used up law enforcement resources. Eventually, local governments began to hire people that were explicitly trained for water rescue. These men and women started to go by the term “lifeguards.”
In 1912, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) developed a National Lifesaving Service. Soon after, in 1914, the American Red Cross Lifesaving was established. This service trained swimmers in lifesaving and CPR. Once these swimmers were prepared, they were sent to work as lifeguards in their local communities.
Soon enough, lifeguards became an esteemed and challenging career choice. As swimming became more and more popular, non-swimming rescue methods were introduced to aid lifeguards. This was especially true for lifeguards at public beaches where a large number of people swam great distances. The landline and dory are two examples of non-swimming rescue methods.
As the twentieth century progressed, many new organizations popped up such as the United States Lifeguard Association (USLA). In 1983 the American Red Cross expanded their training program, followed by YMCA in 1986.
Today, lifeguards rescue more than roughly 100,000 people from drowning annually. Even though swimming and recreational water activities are increasing in popularity, the incidences of drowning have decreased dramatically due to lifeguards and the work they do.