When you stop to think about it, humankind has always enjoyed some type of leisure and recreation, so the history of leisure and recreation goes back a very long way. The Romans had the Coliseum, where they watched chariot races and other entertainment. The Greeks had amphitheaters where they viewed drama and comedy, and of course they invented the Olympics, one of the greatest entertainment sport spectacles on earth. The list goes on. Even the Bible discusses singing, dancing, music, and other forms of acceptable recreation, so even the most ancient civilizations enjoyed entertainment and recreation of some sort.
The Middle Ages
Life for most people in the Middle Ages was dark and difficult. More emphasis was put on work, and there was little time for leisure. However, jousting tournaments, hunting tournaments, and the earliest forms of chess, checkers, and other games developed during this time. The people worked hard, the Church forbade many forms of entertainment, but there were still leisure pastimes to help develop the growing history of leisure and recreation.
The Industrial Revolution
This history of leisure and recreation goes far back in time, but leisure and recreation really took off when the Industrial Revolution hit Great Britain in the 1700s. The Industrial Revolution revolutionized work in the modern world, and helped create the modern factory environment. Machines mechanized the manufacture of fabric and fibers, and this ultimately led to more leisure time for the workers. They worked long hours in the factories, but they also had time off, and most employers gave at least some holidays off. Thus, people who had labored from dawn to dusk on farms in rural England, moved to the big city, got jobs in factories, and had leisure time away from their jobs. The Industrial Revolution helped create the notion of leisure time, and it helped create a different view of work and leisure.
The 20th Century
If the Industrial Revolution helped create the history of leisure and recreation, the 20th century helped cement it. Workers demanded shorter working hours, paid vacations and holidays, and weekends off, leading to even more leisure time for the world's workforce. Today, work and leisure are still strictly separated, but leisure time and recreation are some of the most important aspect of modern life, showing how the history of leisure and recreation has altered throughout time, and become increasingly popular as people gain more freedom from work and toil.
It's interesting to note that the wide separation between work and leisure in our modern society is something that was not necessary in early, tribal cultures. Early man (and woman), worked when it was necessary to find food or to create items they needed to live, but they did not work continually, they interspersed work with pleasure or leisure, something our society not longer enjoys. For example, in Native American societies, boys "played" at war and warfare, but this play taught them how to use a bow and arrow, useful for hunting as well as defending the tribe. Work became play, while today, the two terms are decidedly distinct.