I can't say it was used historically, both because 50 ohm loads were not the norm they are today, and LEDs did not exist, or even solid state diodes if you go back far enough, but one way to tune an antenna without an SWR meter is given by example in AA5TB's tuner:
R1, R2, and R3 form a Wheatstone bridge, with the antenna making the fourth leg of the bridge. The LED is brightest when the antenna impedance is near 50 ohms. I've explained the operation of the circuit in more detail in another answer.
This is interesting in that there's no directional coupler, so it doesn't measure forward and reverse power like a typical SWR bridge. Instead it just measures how close you are to 50 ohms (or any other impedance, if you swap out the resistors) which accomplishes the same objective.