A brief history of puzzling

In the redundancy of consecutive days spent at home, locked away from the devastating pandemic outside our doors, many are turning to board games and puzzles to occupy their minds and their time.

Puzzles are an anomaly. They have the ability to entertain the little ones, the young adults and the elderly. They teach, challenge, entertain and relax whoever decides to attempt them.

And who do we owe our gratitude to for the creation of such a time- well- spent invention?

“Dissected Maps:”

Spilsbury Jigsaw

John Spilsbury was born in Britain in 1739 and grew up to become a British mapmaker and engraver. He created the first- known Jigsaw puzzle in the year 1766, by pasting a world map onto a block of mahogany wood and cutting around the country boundaries with a hand saw. He used this concept to help children at the local school with their geography education. Spilsbury called his new invention “Dissected Maps,” and they were hugely effective in schools, subsequently inspiring him to create seven other puzzle themes: Africa, America, Asia, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

The “Dissected Maps” inventor built these until his death in 1769, when his wife took over his business and continued selling her late husband’s creation.

Growth in Popularity:

More and more education systems began using these “dissected maps” as an educational tool, and the popularity of the puzzle grew It was especially popular among the wealthy families as the hardwood to make the puzzles caused prices to be fairly expensive. Very soon, other companies and entrepreneurs began copying the idea, creating different images for other school subjects, such as pictures of farms or scenes from religious images.

A rise in the popularity of jigsaw puzzles was seen among adults between the mid 1800s and early 1900s. Where few people saw puzzles as a child’s toy, many adults began to enjoy a puzzle’s entertainment factors, and would buy puzzles for their parties hosted over weekends.


It was around the same time that adults began to show an interest in puzzles, that new methods of creating and cutting puzzles came to be. A new, more effective saw, known as the tredie jig- saw was invented to cut puzzles a lot quicker than the latter hand saw, and allowed puzzle makers to cut even more complex shapes out of the puzzle pieces.

Puzzle makers also introduced cheaper materials for making the puzzles, like plywood and cardboard, but the population still preferred the hardwood puzzles as they were perceived as higher quality.

Mass Production:

With the increase in demand for puzzles, many companies started mass producing jigsaw puzzles, such as Milton Bradley and the Detroit Publishing Company, although the most popular of all the puzzle manufacturers were the Parker Brothers.

The Parker Brothers popularity remained for approximately fifty years and they named their product ‘Pastime Puzzles.’ They experimented with puzzle design, turning the pieces into figures, like elephants and dogs, known as ‘whimsy pieces’ to make the experience more challenging. They also started creating pieces that would lock together so as to prevent pieces being lost or moved from their place in the puzzle.

The Great Depression:

Unemployed men queued outside soup kitchen during the Great Depression

Although interest in puzzles had been radically growing up until this point, the crash of the stock market and the onset of the Great Depression in the 1920s and early 1930s surprisingly brought even more popularity to the jigsaw puzzle. Their cheaper prices, as cheaper materials were being used more and more, made it a logical pastime, as people could not afford their more expensive past entertainment, such as shows and restaurants. Building puzzles also helped get the puzzle- builders’ minds off of the fears and catastrophe that the Great Depression was bringing upon their personal lives as well as their cities.

Companies also began giving away free puzzles when their product was bought, to increase their sales and create a bigger interest in their goods.

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