Australian’s credit Alick Wickham with the invention of the front crawl (aka freestyle), but some debate who was the first to use this style of swimming.
Some analysts say it has been used since antiquity.
London, 1844, Native North American’s were witnessed using the style, defeating the British with ease. The Brits used the breastroke style and continued to use it because they thought the thrashing crawl stroke was barbaric and “un-European” according to wikipedia.
In 1873, John Arthur Trudgen took a trip to Argentina and developed a crawl stroke mimicking the native South Americans, but he used the scissor kick — wide and inefficient — instead of the flutter kick. This hybrid stroke became popular and was called the Trudgen stroke.
Australian, Richmond “Dick” Cavill, was inspired by Solomon Islander Alick Wickham in the early 1900s. They watched Wickham and experimented, developing a modified Trudgen stroke which ultimately became known as the “Australian Crawl”.
Charles Daniel is credited with adding the six-beat kick, which further developed the stroke into what some call the “American crawl”.
This biggest innovation since the six-beat kick is, arguably, the straight-arm recovery.