Jigsaw puzzles are very popular even today. Join us for a charming journey down memory lane and discover how this entertaining pastime evolved.
The origin of jigsaw puzzles can be traced back to the 1760s.Mapmakers were responsible for providing the inspiration for what has become a popular pastime. European mapmakers created a ‘dissected map’ by pasting maps onto wood and then cutting the assembly into small pieces. The one man generally attributed for creating the very first such map was John Spilsbury.
The name ‘jigsaw’ has been applied to the puzzle as a tribute to the way pieces were cut. All the original puzzles were made of wood and were cut with a saw. A fret saw was actually used in the cutting of the puzzling pieces-the set up was called the saw jig. The treadle saw which was introduced in 1880 made the puzzle production easier. Ply wood was used towards the end of the 19th century. The pictures were either glued or pasted. The maker would then trace in pencil on the back to indicate where the saw cuts should be made.
Puzzles for adult use began to gain in popularity in the early 1900s. These early puzzles were very challenging. Most puzzle pieces were cut exactly along the colour lines. Few had transition pieces which might give the user a clue as to where the pieces could fit. Blue sky and green tree colours were not included on the small piece for example. Because the puzzling pieces did not interlock, hours of work could easily lost with a sharp movement. While children’s puzzle had the final picture on the lid of the box, adult puzzles did not, the picture was not properly revealed until the last piece was placed into the puzzle.
Cardboard puzzles were introduced in the late 19th century for children only. There was very little movement towards producing adult puzzles in any material but wood. While there were several reasons, the makers resisted the move and the main reason was greater profits in wooden puzzles as it was pastime of the wealthy.
Making jigsaw with the interlocking pieces was the next move for manufacturers. Several large companies were supplying products and one major player produced its “Pastime” series. The “ Pastime” puzzles were so successful that in 1909 the company Parker Brothers devoted its entire production schedule to producing the wooden puzzles.
It was the during the years of the Depression that the jigsaw was most popular. The puzzle was a cheap, recyclable entertainment and became widely available. Public libraries joined the jigsaw craze by offering puzzles for rental. Drugstores also had similar deals, so the puzzles became accessible for almost everyone.
After World War II the popularity of wooden jigsaw waned. They were expensive and time consuming to make. Improvements in the production of quality card board jigsaws meant that they soon became the preferred style of puzzle.