History Of Jigsaws

World map jigsaw puzzle

World maps were used as early jigsaw puzzles

Sitting down to solve jigsaw puzzles is a rather common pastime to engage in, be it by one’s self, or with family and friends. Whether it’s once in a while or every Friday night, there’s no doubt that putting together a jigsaw puzzle one piece at a time has a gratifying effect to the mind. Even science agrees on the cognitive improvements solving jigsaw puzzles brings to the mind. They come in all shapes and sizes, and have been around for several centuries. There have been several claims about who created jigsaw puzzles. However, most historians are of the opinion that the first proper jigsaw puzzle was created by an English engraver called John Spilsbury in 1760. Mr. Spilsbury cut out his world maps along the boundaries of countries and sold them as “Dissected Maps” to help teach people geography. Spilsbury continued this venture until his passing in 1769, and other companies took note of his success and decided to replicate it.

Jumbo Jigsaw Puzzle

A popular Jumbo puzzle

Spilsbury started with cutting out his pieces by placing a world map on a sheet of hardwood and cutting with a hand saw. This method of using hardwood as the material continued after his death. Because of this, a lot of pieces didn’t actually interlock. Most manufacturers limited pieces with interlocks for the borders to establish the puzzle’s frame. The inner pieces were then cut with curved lines. Later in the century, cutting moved from hand saws to foot-powered saws. The newfound ease of production enabled manufacturers to create more interlocking pieces.
Cardboard puzzles began to show up as well, but wood puzzles still held dominance. As the years went by, larger companies began to enter the market. Milton Bradley, Jumbo Games, Parker Brothers, and even the Detroit Publishing Company all had their hands on deck making different jigsaw puzzles for the public’s consumption. By the time the Great Depression hit, interest in wood puzzles declined. But with the invention of a new cardboard cutting technique, it soon gained its popularity back.

Cardboard jigsaw puzzle pieces

Cardboard jigsaw puzzle pieces

The new cardboard puzzles were much easier and cost-effective to manufacture, allowing mass production to take place. As for the consumers, the new cardboard puzzles were a very cheap source of entertainment, switching from a tool meant to educate into a pastime hobby meant to be enjoyed at one’s leisure. The new jigsaw puzzles were so cheap that people got them for free sometimes, and they worked as great product placement ads. People trying to solve the puzzle would have to focus on the image they were piecing together for hours on end.

Till this very day, companies like Jumbo Games, Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, and Gibson Games are producing thousands of jigsaw puzzles with different themes, images, and sizes for the public. Jigsaw puzzles have become so diverse, even kids have specialized puzzles which serve the dual purpose of developing their cognitive abilities, while also providing a fun and engaging activity for them. Companies have also become more innovative with the way they create their jigsaw puzzles. 3D block puzzles offer players a jigsaw puzzle with multiple images created from the same pieces. Some other jigsaw puzzles allow for the combination of pieces to create different patterns.

With their ability to bring people together, engage mindfulness and provide a fun pastime, It is apparent that Jigsaw puzzles have become a mainstay in many households, almost becoming an essential part of socializing. With their storied history and continued innovation, as well as benefits, both socially and cognitively, Jigsaw puzzles will continue to enjoy longevity, whether it is in the living room or the classroom.