The front crawl has been in use since ancient times. In the Western world, the front crawl was first seen in a swimming race held in 1844 in London, where it was swum by Native North Americans, who easily defeated all the British breaststroke swimmers. However, the English gentlemen considered this style, with its considerable splashing, to be barbarically "un-European". The British continued to swim only the breaststroke in competition.
Sometime between 1870 and 1890, John Arthur Trudgen learned the front crawl from native South Americans during a trip to Argentina (the exact date is disputed, but is most often given as 1873). However, Trudgen mistakenly used (in Great Britain) the more common sidestroke (scissor) kick instead of the flutter kick used by the Native Americans. This hybrid stroke was called the Trudgen stroke. Because of its speed, this stroke quickly became popular.
Trudgen's style was improved by the Australian champion swimmer, Richmond "Dick" Cavill (1884–1938), the son of the swimming instructor, "Professor" Richard "Frederick" Cavill. While Richmond and his brother "Tums" developed the stroke, they were later inspired by Alick Wickham, a young Solomon Islander who was living in Sydney. He swam a version of the crawl stroke that was popular in his home island at Roviana lagoon. They modified their swimming stroke using this as inspiration and this modified Trudgen stroke became known as the "Australian crawl".
The American swimmer Charles Daniels made modifications to a six-beat kick, thereby creating the "American crawl". With minor modifications, this stroke is the front crawl that is used today.
The front crawl' or forward crawl is a swimming stroke usually regarded as the fastest of the four front primary strokes. As such, the front crawl stroke is nearly universally used during a freestyle swimming competition, hence freestyle is used metonymically for the front crawl. It is one of two long axis strokes, the other one being the backstroke. Unlike the backstroke, the butterfly stroke, and the breaststroke, the front crawl is not regulated by the FINA. This style is sometimes referred to as the Australian crawl or the American crawl, although these can refer to more specific variants of front crawl.
The face-down swimming position allows for a good range of motion of the arm in the water, as compared to the backstroke, where the hands cannot be moved easily along the back of the spine. The above-water recovery of the stroke reduces drag, compared to the underwater recovery of breaststroke. The alternating arms also allows some rolling movement of the body for an easier recovery compared to, for example, butterfly. Finally, the alternating arm stroke makes for a relatively constant speed throughout the cycle.