Rowing is the oldest branch of systematic athletics at Harvard, although a course of gymnastic training was introduced by Dr. Charles Follen as early as 1830. The competitive system did not spring up at once, and rowing, when it began in 1844, was more of the nature of a pastime. The "Oneida," which was the first boat used at Harvard, was typical of the other boats soon afterwards bought by the different clubs. It was 37 feet long of lap-streak construction, heavy and low in the water, and the thole pins were sunk in the gunwale. There was no shear, the stem was straight and the men rowed in red cushions; the whole having the appearance of a man-of-war's gig at the present time.
One race was rowed in 1847 by the club owning the "Huron," against the "Wave" of Boston, but the first intercollegiate race did not take place-until 1852, when a race was rowed with Yale on Lake Winnipiseogee. Although the Harvard crew had rowed in the "Oneida" only a few times "for fear of blistering their hands," they beat Yale over a two mile course by four lengths in 10 minutes. A practice race had been rowed in the morning with the same results. The only idea of training was to avoid sweetmeats and pastry on the day of the race. This crew was called a University crew, but it was really one of the club crews. Not until 1856 was a boat house built to hold the first University boat.
The first Harvard and Yale Freshman race was won by Harvard on July 24, 1860, on Lake Quinsigamond, over a one and one-half mile course. The Harvard crew was in the "Thetis," a six oared lap streak, and the Yale crew was in the "Glyuna," a six-oared half-shell.
In football, Harvard played the first game with Yale at New Haven in 1875 and won by a score of four goals to nine. About one hundred Harvard students accompanied the team to New Haven, where they received excellent treatment. The game was played according to modified Rugby rules, with fifteen men on a side and was the most interesting game, on account of Harvard's fine playing, that had been seen in America up to that time. The first Harvard-Yale Freshman football game was played in the following year on Boston Common, when Harvard won by two goals to nine.
Baseball had its beginning in 1845 and was introduced at Harvard in 1862 by two enthusiastic Freshmen. The '66 Baseball Club was soon formed and played the first game outside the University against Brown on June 27, 1863. Many games were played during the next few months, but one hard fought victory obliged the formation of a University club. The Cambridge Common was abandoned as a practice ground, and the Delta was substituted. Four years later, on July 25, Harvard played the first game with Yale at Worcester, and won by a score of 25 to 17. The game was the first of a most important series and the score represented well the comparative merits of the teams.
The first participation of a Harvard team in intercollegiate track athletics was in 1877, when Harvard won one second prize. Two years later she took three first prizes and, in 1880, won the Mott Haven Cup.