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History of Jigsaw Puzzles: 20+ Important Moments / Events (Origins,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Four brown pieces of puzzle stand on wooden table
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A jigsaw puzzle involves assembling oddly shaped pieces that interlock to produce a complete picture. Completing jigsaw puzzles is a well-known recreational game for all ages. It’s an excellent way to keep you busy, relieve stress, and build something amazing. 

The jigsaw puzzle didn’t start out as an entertaining pastime activity. Its origins are rooted in education, and it has been with us through thick and thin. The evolution of the jigsaw puzzle from the 18th century to the present reflects important social, cultural, and technological moments in our history.

Here is an exploration of the history of the jigsaw puzzle through 21 crucial historical moments that have shaped it into the recreational game it is today:

1. The Jigsaw Puzzle As A Teaching Aid

The first jigsaw puzzles were maps pasted on a thin mahogany board and ‘dissected’ along country borders to teach children geography. Ask anyone who the inventor of the jigsaw puzzle was, and they’ll probably tell you it was John Spilsbury in the 1760s. 

However, the actual credit belongs to Madame de Beaumont, a French educator and author who lived in London from 1748 to 1762. Geography lessons were included in her book, Magasin des Enfans, and her school charged half a guinea for geographical maps in the wood [dissected maps].

2. A Lucrative Juvenile Entertainment Market

Around the 1740s, a new market in children’s games and books had emerged in London. Thomas Boreman, a London bookseller, proved the market to be lucrative after publishing a successful series of infant books called Gigantick Histories

Various tradesmen, including Spilsbury’s mentor, sought to exploit this new market. Spilsbury was exposed to this trend during his apprenticeship. Afterward, he may have gotten inspiration or instruction from Madame de Beaumont and started issuing dissected maps commercially. 

3. The Spirit of Entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurship spirit was critical for the development of the jigsaw puzzle in the 18th century. Children’s book publishers like William Darton were aggressive marketers who adopted the dissected puzzle with great inventiveness.  

They soon started creating and selling dissected puzzles and movable books. Portions of popular stories or books reappear as dissected puzzles in pictorial, abridged, or hieroglyphic forms. 

4. Promotion of Learning Through Play

John Locke’s theory of learning through play became very popular in the 18th century. He called for changes in the principles guiding the education and upbringing of children. This encouraged the modification of teaching methods and created a vast market for jigsaw puzzles.

He argued for reward systems to be instituted in preference to punishments. Locke’s words carried a lot of weight, and his most influential argument was that it was essential to “make all that children have to do, sport and play too.”

5. England’s Aggressive Pursuit of Conquest and Trade

Geography and mapping were a serious concern to everyone in 18th century England. It was a time of colonial expansion and naval superiority. Thus, the jigsaw puzzle was instrumental in perpetuating cultural norms of exploration and conquest. 

The puzzles concurred with the agenda of the time. They were used to inculcate a sense of nationalism and ideas about imperialism and commerce. A myriad of values was promoted to young people together with facts about places and cartography. 

6. Inculcating Moral Values

A belief to instill social and moral values in children in the more secular society of the 18th century was maintained. A continued didactic element in English children’s pastimes and literature was ensured through religious and moral allegorical games.

Dissected Emblems was published as a dissected puzzle in 1789. When completed, it displayed two trees bearing the fruits of evil and the fruits of goodness. 

7. Encouraging Motherhood

Games and puzzles encouraged mothers to teach and play with their young children. Jill Shefrin, a historian, notes that educationists and authors encouraged mothers to spend time with their children at home and outside. 

They were warned of the great harm of leaving their children to the care of maids and urged to improvise in making learning amusing and playful. 

8. Child Development

Throughout the Georgian period, different kinds of games for children in various levels of development emerged. Dissected puzzles were often meant for older children and focused on particular areas of instruction. 

They encouraged children to learn to exercise their judgment and think for themselves. The use of puzzles in such instruction reflects the gradual move to more interactive learning and creative teaching. 

9. Status Symbol

Jigsaw puzzles were very expensive and were popular with wealthy families and affluent households like the British Royal Family. An identified set of dissected maps that belonged to the children of George III led to a re-examination of the history of educational toys. 

History of England. British historical figures drinking tea
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In her 1814 novel, Mansfield Park, Jane Austen nicely describes the level of affluence required to possess such pastimes. The contempt of the more affluent cousins is expressed where one reports, “Dear Mama, only think, my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together.”

10. Art Advancement

There was increased use of hand-coloring beginning in the 1780s and the development of new engraving techniques. This contributed to an improvement in the quality and popularity of jigsaw puzzles in the competitive market. 

They were beautiful pieces of craftsmanship, hand-colored, engraved, carefully mounted, cut, folded, or assembled. 

11. The Birth of Consumer Culture in Britain

The increased popularity of jigsaw puzzles, or dissected maps as they were called, marked the beginning of consumer culture at the start of the nineteenth century. The production of specified products and branded commodities was the backbone of modern consumer culture. 

Newspapers described them as intellectual toys, making dissected maps a commodity advertised by appealing to amusement and education. 

12. The Rise of A Visual Culture

The early 19th century saw an increased inclination towards visual spectacles, shared by consumer culture and toys like dissected puzzles. Such toys fit perfectly into the visual culture where panoramas, printed images, and optical phenomena were extremely popular. 

Puzzles embraced visual spectacle and were made in ways that would appeal to the consumers’ visual experience. Different appearances and caricatures were experimented with, while others involved organizing pieces in well-displayed orders. 

13. The Emergence of Retail Outlets

The Georgian era was characterized by the increased commercialization of leisure and pleasure. As a result, shops displaying ready-made goods emerged, shifting from the traditional shop that had been a workshop or place of manufacture. 

Ready-made, well-crafted dissected puzzles became popular in toyshops. The shops embraced visual culture to increase the sale of toys. Display opportunities like double fronted windows were used to promote the publicity of puzzles and toys. 

14. Changing Connotations on Puzzles and Toys

Rational toys like jigsaw puzzles got a positive boost in the early 19th century because of their connection with the publishing industry. Geography, history, and astronomy were in vogue, and puzzles were used to instruct and amuse the young while raising their interests in science. 

This remarkably affected how people thought of toys like puzzles. Toys were no longer being associated with transience and vanity but with creativity and utility. The world of play was linked with experimentation, exercising reasoning, and educating the senses. 

15. Changing Christmas Rituals

By the early 19th century, Christmas had transformed from a public, exuberant feast into a domestic family affair. Modern Christmas emerged from focusing on gift-giving, with children being the primary addressees of gifts.

At the same time, jigsaw puzzles were gaining popularity as educational toys. They were also advertised as the perfect Christmas gift for kids. Thus, the new Christmas rituals promoted the advancement of puzzles as gifts for educating and amusing the young.

16. A New Audience

By the mid-19th century, puzzles had gradually shifted from being associated exclusively with children to amusement for adults. The market had shifted as the toy industry took over a larger share of the children’s market. 

By 1900, jigsaw puzzles for adults were being out on the market. Unlike children’s versions, many didn’t have a picture or guide on the box.  

17. The Treadle-Driven Fret-Saw

Woodworking history shows that the first treadle-driven fretsaw was patented in 1865. Also called a jigsaw or scroll saw, it made it easier for puzzle makers to create more intricate interlocking shapes by improving accuracy and speed.

It became the primary method of creating puzzles. Eventually, the name changed from dissected puzzles or maps to jigsaw puzzles. 

18. Lithographic Printing and Plywood

The 1800s also saw the development of lithographic printing techniques, which were more sophisticated. They made it possible to create higher-quality prints on wood with finer details and clearer, brighter colors. 

Plywood also started being used to produce puzzles instead of hardwood. Not only was it more affordable, but it was also lighter and easier to cut. 

19. The American Puzzle Craze

From 1870 the jigsaw puzzle had been gradually increasing in popularity among US adults. In 1907 the first commercial puzzle craze gripped the nation. Well-known puzzlers included President Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan. 

Theodore Roosevelt Vector
BlackAkaliko / Shutterstock.com

At this time, jigsaw puzzles were still not accessible to the poor. Instead, they remained an activity for the wealthy and high society. 

20. Cardboards and The Great Depression

By the 1930s, jigsaw puzzles were being manufactured using cardboards. The switch significantly curtailed the costs, and they could be manufactured more quickly using die cuts instead of hand cutting. 

People of all economic backgrounds could now access jigsaw puzzles. They provided an affordable and reusable source of entertainment during the Great Depression and created the second puzzle craze. By 1933, the puzzle industry was producing over 10 million puzzles weekly. 

21. Jigsaw Puzzles and COVID 19

Similar to times of the Great Depression, jigsaw puzzles saw a surge in demand when the coronavirus pandemic started, especially because people were stuck at home. Described as the 3rd puzzle craze in America, puzzle manufacturers, in 2020, saw a 300% increase in sales compared to the previous year. 

Last Word

It’s clear that the jigsaw puzzle has come a long way and is here to stay. Despite the emergence of new technologies and pastimes, it remains a popular recreational activity, especially in times of stress, high uncertainty, and unemployment.

JC Franco
Editor

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.