It was an English cartographer called John Spilsbury who created the first jigsaw puzzle in the 1760s.
He attached a map of the world to a piece of wood, cut out each country, and dared people to put it back together. Spilsbury then marketed these puzzles to wealthy and influential people so they could teach their children geography.
The first cardboard jigsaw puzzle appeared in the late 1800s.
These didn’t initially replace wooden jigsaws because manufacturers believed cardboard puzzles would be seen as low-quality. The profit margins on the wooden puzzles were also larger.
The name jigsaw comes from the tool: the jigsaw.
The original name for the jigsaw puzzles is ‘dissected puzzle’. But, when the jigsaw cutting tool was invented in the 1800s, puzzle makers found it easier to use to cut the puzzle pieces and make more intricate shapes. So, dissected puzzles were renamed ‘jigsaw puzzles’.
Puzzles made using a jigsaw were quicker to produce, which meant they could be manufactured at a lower price, and more were sold.
Puzzles became more widespread in the early 20th century.
This was when some of the big companies like Parker Brothers (an American toy and game manufacturer) started manufacturing jigsaw puzzles in a wider range of designs.
Over the years, their popularity has risen and fallen. The Great Depression was one era when they were particularly popular. More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic saw a rise in jigsaw puzzle popularity too. The sales of puzzles were already starting to increase prior to the start of the pandemic and have continued to do so since restrictions have been lifted.
Sales of wooden puzzles declined after World War 1 – but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that production techniques improved for making cardboard puzzles.
Once this happened, jigsaws could be considered ‘good quality’. Since that time, the technique for producing cardboard puzzles hasn’t changed much at all.
Jigsaw puzzles come in a huge range of sizes.
Some are small enough to be fridge magnets and are often used as promotional material. Others are larger; 300, 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000… all the way up to 40,000 pieces. They also come in all different shapes, including round, square, and oval – and even in 3D and 4D.
The original puzzle was a map of the world, but since then they have diversified into pictures of animals, cartoons, flowers, popular movies, scenery, and vehicles.
There are even companies that can take your photographs and turn them into jigsaw puzzles.
For the serious puzzler, there are places where you can buy puzzle accessories, such as trays, to sort the pieces into.
You can get puzzle boards, puzzle mats, puzzle picture frames, and even puzzle glue!
Experts say it takes four times as long to do a 1000 piece puzzle as it does to do a 500 piece one.
The reason for this is that each time you double the number of pieces, the difficulty is quadrupled. Therefore it will take you sixty-four times longer to complete a 4000 piece puzzle than a 500 piece one.