The club was founded in 1912 by the initiative of three sports enthusiasts from Santos by Raimundo Marques, Mário Ferraz de Campos, and Argemiro de Souza Júnior as a response to the lack of representation the city had in football. Since then, Santos became one of Brazil's most successful clubs, becoming a symbol of Jogo Bonito (English: the Beautiful Game) in football culture, hence the motto "Técnica e Disciplina" (Technique and discipline). The most recognized Santista anthem is the "Leão do Mar" written by Mangeri Neto. This was largely thanks to the Peixe's golden generation of the 1960s which contained players such as Gilmar, Mauro Ramos, Mengálvio, Coutinho, Pepe and Pelé, named the "Athlete of the Century" by the International Olympic Committee, and widely regarded among football historians, former players and fans to be the best and most accomplished footballer in the game's history. Os Santásticos, considered by some the best club team of all times, won a total of 24 titles during that decade including five consecutive Brasileirões, a feat that remains unequaled until today. Os Santásticos also became the first squad in the world to win the Continental Treble, winning the Paulistão, the Brasileirão, and the Copa Libertadores in 1962.
Santos is one of the most successful clubs in the Brasileirão, becoming national champions on eight occasions. It has also won 21 Paulistãos, three Copa Libertadores, two Intercontinental Cups, one Supercopa de Campeones Intercontinentales, one Copa CONMEBOL (the precursor of current Copa Sudamericana), one Copa do Brasil and one Recopa Sudamericana. In 1962, Santos became the first club in the world to win four out of four competitions in a single year, thus completing the quadruple, comprising the aforementioned treble and the European/South American Cup. On January 20, 1998, Santos became the first team, in any category in the world, to reach the milestone of 10,000 goals in the entire history of football, scored by Jorginho.
The Peixe play their home games at the Vila Belmiro, which currently holds up to 20,120 spectators. Santos' regular kit is white shirts, with white shorts, accompanied by white socks. Kappa are the kit manufacturers. Santos holds many long-standing rivalries, most notably against Corinthians, Palmeiras and São Paulo. It has contributed many key and famous players towards Brazil's FIFA World Cup squads, including eleven world champions out of its 45 contributors and two FIFA World Cup winning captains. In 2013, the club is the 2nd most valuable club in Brazil and Latin America, and 38th most valuable club in the world according to Brand Finance, worth over $65 million. In terms of revenue, Santos is Brazil's 4th richest sports club and one of the biggest football clubs in the world, generating an annual turnover of over $114 million in 2012.
—Arnaldo Silveira, one of the original founders of Santos, in an interview by O Estado de S. Paulo in 1980.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the city of Santos grew to become of great importance to Brazil. Its port became one of the largest in the world with coffee, a major product in those times, being the most exported product. With the influx of income, the wealthy socialites of the city became increasingly interested in having the city represented in sports. Being a port, water sports such as rowing were generally the most practiced activity by the city's youth, but the city had teams strong enough to compete in the Campeonatos Paulista or Paulistão, with Clube Atlético Internacional and Sport Club Americano being the two strongest representatives. Football was introduced to Santos in 1902 via the Instituto Presbiteriano Mackenzie, and the students created the two aforementioned clubs as a result.