History Of Jigsaw Puzzles

Jigsaws are part of our cultural background.  There are few people who don’t know about them, and haven’t played them at some point in their lives.


Their versatility makes them an ideal pastime both children and adults, and despite advances in technology and cultural progress jigsaws are as popular as ever. They have even made a successful transition to the internet with numerous websites offering jigsaws online and free online puzzles.

But where did it all start and who first had the idea that led to one of the worlds’ favourite pastimes?

Although we can never be entirely sure who actually first cut a picture in to pieces to use as a puzzle, the first recorded occurrence is by an English engraver and map maker, John Spilsbury, around 1760.  Working in London, he had the idea to mount a map on to a piece of wood and cut out the countries from the map using a fine bladed saw.  His idea was to use the cut outs as an aid to teaching children the geography of the world.  Originally known as “dissections”, his idea caught on and they became a common teaching tool for the next two hundred years or so.

Around 1880 treadle saws were introduced, which made the cutting of wood in to intricate shapes much easier and quicker.  The treadle saw was a form of powered jig saw, or fret saw, and this is the name that stuck.  Due to the grain of the hardwood used at the time, the size of the pieces was necessarily quite large, but the progress of plywood towards the end of the century allowed the piece sizes to be reduced and the puzzles became more intricate and interesting.

Cardboard puzzles were also introduced around the 1880s, with pictures being glued on to a piece of card.  The puzzles were not as robust as their wooden counterparts, and so were used mainly as cheap children’s toys.  Wooden puzzles continued to dominate until the twentieth century, when “die” cutting became available.

A die refers to a thin shaped blade that can be formed into intricate shapes, like a cookie cutter, that is then mounted on a solid block.  The whole assembly can then be stamped down onto the cardboard mounted picture to complete the cutting out of the pieces in a single operation, a much faster process than using a jig saw on  a piece of wood.  This economy allowed the mass production of cardboard jigsaws, and the golden age of jigsaws followed, with sales in both Britain and the United States booming in the 1920s and 30s.  Advances in printing techniques, adhesives and die cutting all combined to make an ever increasing variety of cheap pictures available for the market, with everything from countryside scenes to airplanes and steamships appearing on the jigsaws.  They were also used to advertise and promote products as the more astute companies saw the opportunity to engage their products with the public in a seemingly entertaining way.

The more recent updates in computer games, the internet and social media as pastimes has impacted on the sales of physical jigsaws, but this has been matched by the emergence of jigsaw websites that offer a huge range of jigsaws and features at the click of a mouse.  So rather than losing interest in jigsaws, we have simply moved with the times and taken them to the next level of technology.

Author Bio:

John is founder of Jigfun, a jigsaw website offering some of the best jigsaw features found anywhere online. http://blog.jigfun.com/

Free online jigsaw puzzles with http://www.jigfun.com. Hours of fun! Play, share, shop.

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