The first American athletic clubs were copied from the English model. They were social clubs that embraced the ancient Greek ideal that physical exercise was good for one's well being.
Organized in 1866, the New York Athletic Club made athletic sports popular and respectable and rendered it possible that amateur athletic clubs should exist and flourish. The NYAC held the first amateur track meet in America in 1876, built the countryís first cinder track and in 1877 sponsored the first national swimming championships in the Harlem River.
In 1885, the club built its' first 'City House' at 55th Street and Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan. The House was more magnificent than the Brooklyn Central Y building and included facilities for card playing, gambling and drinking - activities not deemed consistent with religious principles of the Ys.
Similar private athletic club facilities were built in cities across the country, from Boston to San Francisco. The Clubs hired professional swimming instructors to teach swimming and trained the competitive swimmers who dominated early amateur competitions.