Rowing has been around for centuries and stays among the best of competitive sports around the world. The Greeks discovered the technique of affixing the oar to the side of the boat approximately two thousand years ago. They discovered that working a single oar against a fulcrum was much more useful and effective than a paddle. Rowing was primarily used to transport goods, but when there was more than one boat in the water, human nature took over and racing started.
Professional racers made a decent living in the late 1800's, but gambling on races led to the popular sport's demise. But in America and England, amateur rowers developed popularity in inter-collegiate competitions. The first Oxford/Cambridge race was held in 1829. The first Harvard/Yale race was held in 1852, and is the oldest inter-collegiate event in America.
Many scientific advancements were then made in the sport; a better boat was a faster boat. For example, the ancient Greeks, when rowing, sat on seats that slid to allow them to use their legs to drive the boat. Harvard rowers found a way to grease their pants so that they slid on their immobile seats. This allowed them to dominate Yale because they were still using only the fixed seats. This led to the popular use of sliding seats in today's shells.
Boat clubs started in America in the 1800's. Philadelphia's Schuylkill Navy, begun in 1858, was the first rowing association and the first amateur sports organization. Collegiate and amateur oarsmen started the National Association for Amateur Oarsmen (NAAO) in 1872. Women were left out in these clubs, even though they rowed in amateur and collegiate races also. In the early 1960's the National Women's Rowing Association was formed. Finally, in 1982, the NAAO and the National Women's Rowing Association joined together to become the co-ed United States Rowing Association.