Dam designs may be divided into three main types : gravity structures relying on their weight for stability, arch structures using the abutment reaction forces and buttress dams. The design of an arch dam relies on the abutment reaction forces to resist the water pressure force and it requires advanced engineering expertise. The present study demonstrates that the historical development of arch dams took place in five stages. The world's oldest arch dams were built by the Romans in France and Spain. They were followed by the Mongols who built dams in Iran during the 13th and 14th centuries. However it is not until the 19th century that significant progress in arch dam design was made. Four remarkable structures were the Meer Allum dam (India 1804), the Jones Falls dam (Canada 1831), the Zola dam (France 1854) and Parramatta dam (Australia 1856). Australian engineers pioneered the use of concrete as a construction material for arch dams (i.e. 75-Miles and Lithgow No. 1 dams). Modern concrete arch dam designs were introduced in North-America at the beginning of the 20th century : e.g., constant-angle arch, double-curvature arch. Since no major design breakthrough has taken place and modern arch dams are based upon the single-radius, constant-angle or double-curvature arch design. It is the writers' opinion that the introduction of concrete as construction material marked a major innovation in allowing a flexibility in arch shape design.