Rowing has a long, storied history. It is a popular competitive and recreational sport around the world. Whether on the water, in a boat, or on a rowing machine in a fitness center, rowing has long been championed by physicians and fitness experts as an excellent means of developing physical conditioning. Many sport scholars and fitness experts are knowledgeable about the physiological benefits of rowing and about how to design effective exercise programs, but they lack general historical knowledge about the sport. The purpose of this paper is to provide a useful pathfinder for resources on rowing, with an aim toward providing greater awareness of the sport.


The origins of rowing can be traced to ancient Egypt, where hieroglyphics found in tomb paintings depict men rowing on the Nile. The ancient Greeks and Romans, too, participated in various boating activities, yet their participation was more utilitarian than sporting. Competitive rowing, or crew, is the oldest form of organized collegiate athletic competition in the world, dating to the 19th century. In England, crews from the colleges of the University of Oxford began racing in 1815, while the University of Cambridge’s colleges started fielding teams in 1827. The famed Oxford-Cambridge boat race, which would attract several hundred thousands of spectators, was inaugurated in 1829, and is still held annually. Rowing was introduced to American universities in 1852, when the crews of Harvard and Yale competed in the first organized American intercollegiate athletic contest. College and professional rowing regattas were the most popular spectator sporting events in late nineteenth century America. Rowing maintains a historic position in the sporting world.

Common notions about rowing are that it is an intellectual sport, and its participants come primarily from the gentry. The former is most definitely true, but that latter is, without doubt, a dated stereotype. Rowing has grown in its popularity. Many colleges now field teams for men and women and numerous cities have well-established rowing clubs. The sport has had the imprimatur of the modern Olympics for over a century. With the advent of wind-braked rowing ergometers, the sport has gone indoors. Today, annual national and world championships for rowing are held indoors. The history of rowing is not just one of competitive sport, however, as it has long been championed by physicians and fitness experts as an excellent means of developing physical conditioning. Furthermore, many schools and colleges across America have purchased indoor rowing machines for their fitness centers and physical education courses.

This pathfinder describes some of the abundant material devoted to rowing, with an aim toward providing a greater awareness of the sport. The 43 sources, which include books and Web sources arranged alphabetically in eight categories, are annotated. Full citations for books are provided. Books that are not available in a library can be acquired through interlibrary loan services. Many of the books can be obtained in the online used book market. Fiction and reference works, such as sports dictionaries and encyclopedias, are not included.

Art and Photographic Sources:

Like most sports, rowing is a visual spectacle depicted in art and captured in photographs. Muscular rowers moving oared boats across water can be inspiring.

Cooper, Helen A. (1996). Thomas Eakins: The Rowing Pictures. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery.
A primer on the rowing art of America’s preeminent nineteenth-century painter.

Ivry, Benjamin. (1988). Regatta: A Celebration of Oarsmanship. New York: Simon and Schuster.
An enjoyable salute to the splendor of rowing, with lively writing and wonderful color photography. Contains a chapter about coxswains.

Weil, Thomas E. (2005). Beauty and the Boats: Art & Artistry in Early British Rowing. Illustrated from the Thomas E. Weil Collection. Henley-on-Thames: River and Rowing Museum.
The exhibition catalogue of Weil’s collection of rowing memorabilia, art, and literature–perhaps the world’s finest–that was displayed at the River and Rowing Museum. Descriptions are informal but enlightening, and the color photographs of every item displayed are enriching.


One bibliography is devoted to rowing, and it is a landmark scholarly achievement.

Brittain, Frederick. (1938). Oar, Scull and Rudder. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press. Rpt. in Herrick, Robert F. Red Top: Reminisces of Harvard Rowing. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948. pp. 183-248.
Nearly 1,000 sources, many of them annotated, in the only bibliography of rowing literature, compiled by a scholar who authored three books on the sport.

Biographical Sources:

These sources offer insights not only into the varied lives of athletes and coaches, but into the enduring mysteries of rowing. Rowers are passionate about their sport, which offers little glory and less fame, and narratives about tolerating the physical demands and finding the rhythm of moving a boat over water are absorbing.

Boyne, Daniel J. (2000). The Red Rose Crew: A True Story of Women, Winning, and the Water. New York: Hyperion. Reissued in 2005, with a foreword by David Halberstam.
A compelling portrayal of the pioneering crew’s bid for the 1975 World Championships, led by the phenomenal oarswoman Carie Graves and Harvard’s men’s coach Harry Parker.

Halberstam, David. (1986). The Amateurs. New York: Penguin Books.
An exceptional look into the “demonic passion” of elite single scullers and the quest for one spot on the 1984 U.S. Olympic rowing team. The finest book on rowing.

Hall, Sara. (2002). Drawn to the Rhythm: A Passionate Life Reclaimed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
The winning account of a determined woman’s discovery of competitive sculling and her swift climb to a world championship.

Kiesling, Stephen. (1982). The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence. New York: Morrow.
Originally the author’s senior thesis in philosophy, this is the primary book about rowing at Yale.

Lewis, Brad Alan. (1990). Assault on Lake Casitas. Philadelphia: Broad Street Books. Reissued in 2002 by Shark Press & JL Designs, Inc.
An engrossing narrative by an iconic figure in American rowing whose uncommon tenacity led him and his partner to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympic double sculls.

Look, Margaret K. (1989). Courtney: Master Oarsman–Champion Coach. Interlaken, N.Y.: Empire State Books.
This enjoyable story about the early years of a tremendous American rower and legendary Cornell coach is told by a seasoned journalist who appreciates the sport.

Newell, Gordon R. (1987). Ready All! George Y. Pocock and Crew Racing. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Primarily about fabled boat builder George Pocock, the book also chronicles the rise of the University of Washington crew as a powerhouse in the first half of the twentieth century.

Pinsent, Matthew. (2004). Two Million Strokes a Minute: A Lifetime in a Race. London: Ebury Press.
His country’s most accomplished rower, Pinsent’s notable journey begins as a novice at England’s foremost prep school and ends with the ultimate honor for remarkable achievement in rowing—knighting by the Queen.

Strauss, Barry. (1999). Rowing Against the Current: On Learning to Scull at Forty. New York: Simon and Schuster.
The engaging narrative of a professor at mid-life who was drawn initially to the sport’s history but finds personal satisfaction and athletic fulfillment as a sculler. Contains suggested readings.

Coaching or Instruction Sources:

These are how-to-row and how-to-get-better-at-rowing sources that describe a range of techniques and philosophies. Helpful primers to getting started and guidebooks to enhanced performance, they contain advice about training and racing on the water and on the ergometer.

Bourne, Gilbert C. (1987). A Textbook of Oarsmanship: A Classic of Rowing Technical Literature. Toronto: Sport Books.
The classic text on rowing technique by an anatomist whose wit and literary ability contribute to its lasting popularity.

Fairbairn, Steve. (1990). Steve Fairbairn on Rowing. London: The Kingswood Press. Originally published in 1951.
One of British rowing’s most famous coaches, Fairbairn wrote numerous “chats” for his crews in the early 1900s. Fascinating statements about motivation, racing, and training were compiled in this book. It will not disappoint.

Kiesling, Stephen. (1990). The Complete Recreational Rower & Racer. New York: Crown.
For the novice rower at any level, the most practical induction to the sport by an accomplished rower and writer. Contains a weekly training schedule, ergometer pace chart, historical time line, and bibliography.

Lehmann, R. C. (1908). The Complete Oarsman. London: Methuen & Co.
An earnest and lengthy look at early nineteenth-century British club, college, and professional daily rowing routines that, without a hint of humor, encourages a pint of beer at lunch and endorses champagne as the antidote for a slump in performance.

Nolte, Volker. (ed.). (2004). Rowing Faster. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics.
A readable compilation of theories and experiences about rigging, training, racing, nutrition, and more by authorities around the world. Contains a chapter for coxswains.

Paduda, Joe. (1992). The Art of Sculling. Camden, Me.: International Marine Pub.
An introduction by an experienced coach whose advice about technique, drills, and workouts is clear and instructive. Contains a glossary of terms.


Databases are excellent resources for locating information, from research studies to book reviews to scholarly essays to popular articles. Access to a database usually requires an institutional subscription.

This subject database offers a comprehensive bibliographic coverage of sports and fitness, including rowing, as well as related disciplines, such as sport management. It contains over nearly 700,000 records dating to 1800, including journal and monograph references as well as theses and dissertations, books, book chapters, conference proceedings, and magazine articles.

Historical Sources:

Rowing is rich with tradition, and portrayals of its customs on and off the water help explain the sport’s lasting appeal as a spectator sport.

Burnell, Richard. (1989). Henley Royal Regatta: A Celebration of 150 Years. London: William Heinemann.
The official account of the renowned British regatta and grand social event that dates to 1839 by a notable oarsman turned rowing correspondent and author.

Cleaver, Hylton. (1957). A History of Rowing. London: Herbert Jenkins.
An authoritative treatment of rowing at every phase in its development, from a British perspective.

Dodd, Christopher. (1983). The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race. London: Stanley Paul.
A rowing reporter who is now considered the sport’s preeminent historian, Dodd selects what he believes the best stories about the historic race, begun in 1829, and writes an informal account that edifies.

—. (1992). The Story of World Rowing. London: Stanley Paul.
The first complete look at the evolution of rowing as a sport and a recreational activity. Contains a bibliography of 140 items.

Herrick, Robert F. (comp.). (1948). Red Top: Reminisces of Harvard Rowing. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
A studious look at Harvard rowing, with essays by knowledgeable writers. Includes Britain’s bibliography.

Kelley, Robert F. (1932). American Rowing: Its Background and Traditions. New York: Putnam’s.
The principal account of the first 80 years of club, college, and professional rowing in the U.S., by The New York Times’ rowing reporter.

Mendenhall, Thomas C. (1980). A Short History of American Rowing. Boston: Charles River Books.
A complete listing of winning crews in essential races from 1852, plus synopses of the stages of American rowing, by a Yale historian known for his understanding of the sport. Contains a glossary of terms.

—. (1993). The Harvard Yale Boat Race, 1852-1924. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport Museum.
A scholarly treatment of the oldest intercollegiate athletic event in the U.S. that examines the growth of rowing at the two schools and explores academic developments and campus life, while considering the administrators who contributed to the sport’s rise. Contains a glossary of terms and bibliography.

Taylor, Bradley F. (2005). Wisconsin Where They Row: A History of Varsity Rowing at the University of Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Rowing is the oldest intercollegiate sport in Wisconsin, so this carefully researched book covers a great deal of significant history, including the rise of women’s participation in the post-Title IX era.

Web Documents:

Among the web resources other than websites related to rowing, the following documents stand out. Selected for their thorough research and fine writing, they are authored by two rowing history authorities who approach their work with a scholar’s disposition and a journalist’s style to create entertaining and informative resources.

“The Wild and Crazy Professionals,” by Bill Miller www.rowinghistory.net/professionals.htm
Miller critiques rowing as a sport for gentlemen who competed honorably but fervently under rules of polite sportsmanship, likening the sport’s popular figures to the 1919 Chicago Black Sox.

“The Great International Boat Race,” by Bill Miller
Miller details the 1869 Harvard-Oxford race, placing the event into its proper historical context and arguing that it led to increased interest in rowing at colleges and among amateurs, thereby bringing an end to professional rowing.

“A Brief Time-Line of Rowing History,” by Thomas E. Weil.
Weil highlights key dates in the development of rowing as the first modern sport in this chronology that covers ancient times to the present.

“The Dangerously Neglected Legacy of Rowing,” by Thomas E. Weil. www.rowinghistory.net/neglected.htm
Weil sincerely questions the rowing community’s general under-appreciation for the sport’s literature, art, memorabilia, and history, then argues persuasively for a greater understanding of its legacy.


Several sites on the World Wide Web are dedicated to rowing. These examples provide reliable information about the sport and, like most Internet sources, they provide links to related sites.

Because the Concept2 rowing machine has become standard equipment in boathouses and fitness clubs, the company’s site serves as the primary source for indoor rowing, from workouts and training to racing schedules.

Friends of Rowing History
Founded in 1992 with an emphasis on North American rowing, this organization’s interest is the preservation of the history of rowing and the celebration of the sport’s past. It features a bibliography and time-line, articles, memorabilia, and other materials of interest to the rowing historian.

George Y. Pocock Rowing Foundation
The George Pocock Rowing Foundation, founded in 1984 and named for innovative shell-builder George Pocock, supports the development and growth of rowing for all ages and skill levels and provides for public and community rowing events, in addition to sponsorship of men and women training for the U.S. National Rowing Team.

Henley Royal Regatta
Henley Regatta, first held in 1839, is the premiere rowing race for high schools, colleges, and clubs in the U.K. andU.S. Originally a one-afternoon event, the regatta now extends 5 days the first week of July, with qualifying races held the week prior due to its popularity.

National Rowing Foundation

The National Rowing Foundation supports athletes who pursue excellence in the sport with the primary goal of promoting U.S. participation in rowing competition around the world, promoting the preservation of rowing history, and managing the Rowing Hall of Fame. Provides a list of every rower who has competed for the U.S.

River and Rowing Museum
The River and Rowing Museum is the leading cultural and educational institution devoted to rowing, with three galleries covering the sport, the river Thames, and the town of Henley. Over 15,000 items are displayed to celebrate events and anniversaries and to depict the sport’s history. A permanent walk-through exhibition of Kenneth Grahame’s classic rowing tale for children, The Wind in the Willows, was recently added.

Daily rowing news, racing calendar, results, features, and photos from races at the high school, collegiate, masters, and national levels in the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada make this site the leading source of information about rowing at all levels.

Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia

Founded in 1858, the Schuylkill Navy of Philadelphia is the oldest amateur athletic governing body in the U.S. Today, it comprises the ten clubs of Boathouse Row and numerous high schools and college teams.


USRowing is the national governing body for the sport in the U.S. It selects, trains, and manages the American teams competing in international events, including the World Championships, Pan American Games, and Olympics. It also sponsors junior and master’s level national championships.

World Rowing
International rowing events, results, news, and features are the thrust of the site, as are profiles of elite athletes and a photo gallery. Browsers can subscribe, free of charge, to the organization’s magazine and newsletter.

Familiarity with these sources will broaden and deepen an understanding of rowing in sports scholars, fitness experts, and physical educators.

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