This event did not figure in the Ancient Games, but was commonly practised by the Celts.
The first competition was organised in England in 1840 and regulated in 1865 when each competitor was allowed three jumps at each height and the crossbar could not be lowered in the event of failure. Taking off with both feet was forbidden and this rule remains in force today.
The height of six feet (1.83m) was first recorded by Marshall Brooks (GBR) in 1876 using a feet first technique. The "Scissors" was first used by William Page (USA) in 1874, and was soon followed by the Eastern Cut-off, developed by Michael Sweeney (USA). George Horine, in 1912, was the first person to jump 2.00m using the Western Roll.
Until 1936 the rules stated that the crossbar had to be jumped feet first. In 1925 the IAAF decided that the crossbar supports should face each other so that simply touching the crossbar would cause it to fall. In 1941 Les Steers (USA), using the Straddle style, cleared 2.11m. Further changes to the rules limited the permitted thickness of the soles of jumpers' shoes.
In 1968 Dick Fosbury (USA) invented the "Flop", a backwards jump following a very fast run up and only possible because of the introduction of a cushioned landing mattress. This style has been used by all top jumpers since 1978.
Javier Sotomayor (Cuba), the current world record holder with 2.45m, is 1.93m tall. He thus jumped 52cm over his own height, but the world's best "differential" is 59cm by the 1.73m tall American, Franklin Jacobs, who cleared 2.32m in 1978.
The first women's high jump contests took place in the USA in 1895. The event made its Olympic debut in 1928 with the first IAAF world record dating back to 1932. Like their male counterparts, women high jumpers have used many styles, from Scissors to Straddle to the Fosbury Flop, in their pursuit of greater heights. The woman to have jumped highest over her own head is Greece's Niki Bakoyanni, 1.71m tall with a best jump of 2.03m.