The years 1800 to 1896 (when the first Olympic Games were held in Athens) are usually called a pre-Olympic swimming era. Probably the most important feature of that period was the invention and further development of various swimming styles along with the beginning of swimming records history and establishing numerous public swimming organizations. The main purpose of swimming changed from recreational, life-preserving and military goals to pure competitive swimming.
The year 1800 is considered the beginning of competitive swimming in Europe. While the beginning of the pre-Olympic swimming era was marked by invention of the lifebelt in 1804 by W. H. Mallison.
An important swimming competition was held in London in 1844 where several Native Americans participated and won against the British because they used front crawl, which is faster then the breaststroke, the only swimming style the British used until 1873. The winner was Flying Gull, who had swum the 130 feet in 30 seconds. That competition showed the advantage of using different swimming styles, which was an important achievement of the pre-Olympic swimming era. Around 1873 a variant of the front crawl, borrowed from Native Americans, was introduced in England by John Arthur Trudgen, and since that time it's been called the Trudgen, the fastest known style of swimming.
Another record of the pre-Olympic swimming era is100 yards in 1:02.05 using a sidestroke in 1895 by J. H. Thayers of England. A famous champion of that time was Captain Matthew Webb who first swam the English Channel (between England and France) in 1875 using breaststroke, 21.26 miles in 21 hours and 45 minutes. His record remained for the next 31 years. He died in 1882 in attempt to swim the Niagara Falls. One of the most important events of that time was formation of almost all the basic swimming styles except for the butterfly, which was introduced in 1952.
The first amateur swimming competitions in Europe were held in Vienna in 1889.
Competition oriented on training stimulated the building of new artificial swimming pools, especially indoor ones, which made it possible to train all year round notwithstanding weather conditions and seasons. In 1862 in England the first indoor swimming pool was built. The first artificial wave pool with electrical heating and light, where artificial waves could be generated, was built in 1879 by King of Bavaria Ludwig II.
Swimming was getting more and more popular and another feature of pre-Olympic swimming era was establishing new public organizations and swimming clubs. In 1837 in Germany the first swimming club was established in Berlin, and in 1880 the Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain was organized.
Among thousands of contemporary swimming clubs the oldest one is possibly "Uppsala Swimming Society", founded in Uppsala in 1796 by the mathematician and astronomer Jon Svanberg (1771-1851) together with some colleagues from the university to fulfill the general want of swimming skills.
The end of the pre-Olympic era was marked with the emergence of a new water sport - synchronized swimming, and its first competition (men's-only) in 1891 in Berlin.