These days, Penn swimmers take the plunge either at the Pottruck pool or the aging but still serviceable Hutchinson facility. Back in the 1890s, the aquatically inclined headed to the recently opened Houston Hall, where a swimming pool shared basement space with a gymnasium and a bowling alley. One floor up, students could play billiards, sit down to a game of chess or checkers or spend some quality post-lap time in the “smoking and lounging” room. Women were excluded from Houston’s basement, though they could visit the first floor as guests of male students. According to the 1901 publication “The History of Athletics at the University of Pennsylvania,” edited and compiled by Edward R. Bushnell, Penn was the first American university to “place a swimming pool at the disposal of its students.” In 1897, champion swimmer George Kistler was hired as an instructor, and it was Kistler who first organized swimming and water polo teams at Penn and made the sport an intercollegiate activity by holding collegiate meets in the Houston Hall tank. Penn was victorious in all the meets held there, with the exception of one year when the honor went to Yale. In 1905 Weightman Hall opened, sporting a magnificent pool 100 feet long and 30 feet wide and supplanting Houston’s basement as the venue of choice for Penn’s swimmers.
For more on this and other notable moments in Penn’s history, visit the University Archives web site at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on April 13, 2006