I know of two methods to drive nails successfully into hardwood. One is to predrill; the other is to use a power nailer, which can drive the nails with enough force that they will go in cleanly and not split the wood.
My house, which was built more than 100 years ago, has oak floor boards throughout that were face-nailed into the subfloor. This was done before most power tools existed. There is no sign of the wood splitting or other problems occurring when the nails were driven in.
My question is how the guys who built my house would have nailed these boards in without the assistance of power drills or power nailers. I'd be surprised if they predrilled each hole manually (there are probably thousands of holes throughout the house), and I assume that even their impressive early-twentieth-century biceps could not come close to matching the force of a modern power nailer.
Anyone with knowledge of historical construction techniques know how nails were driven into hardwood (especially applications like floorboards, where you would care about making it look pretty) before power tools?