Thank the YMCA for Pioneering 8 American Institutions

American Icons, Traditions
on January 4, 2014
Courtesy of the YMCA of the USA Teaching boys and young men to swim during YMCA-sponsored group lessons, circa 1910

From its humble beginnings in London, England, in 1844 to its introduction in the United States in 1851, the nonprofit YMCA has helped people build a healthier “spirit, mind and body.” To accomplish that lofty goal, its programs and services promote a healthy lifestyle, youth development and social responsibility. Here are eight initiatives with roots in the YMCA:

  • Public libraries, night schools for adults, and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes all were pioneered by the YMCA.
  • During the Civil War, more than 5,000 YMCA volunteers assisted in humanitarian efforts on battlefields, in hospitals and at POW camps.
  • Dozens of U.S. colleges trace their lineage to YMCA-established schools.
  • Today’s fitness workouts are an outgrowth of exercise classes developed by Boston YMCA staff member Robert J. Roberts, who coined the term “body building” in 1881.
  • Camp Dudley, the nation’s first known summer camp, opened in 1885 in Orange Lake, N.Y., beginning a long tradition of YMCA camping programs.
  • Basketball was invented during the 1890s by physical education teacher James Naismith while attending a YMCA training event in Springfield, Massachusetts. Later, YMCA instructor William Morgan created mintonette, eventually known as volleyball. And in 1950, racquetball was invented by YMCA volunteer Joe Sobek in Greenwich, Conn.
  • The first group swim lessons began in 1909 at the Detroit (Michigan) YMCA as part of a YMCA initiative “to teach every man and boy in North America” to swim.
  • The USO, the Peace Corps, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day all have their roots in the YMCA.