The History of the Jigsaw Puzzle

Jigsaw puzzles have been enjoyed by people for generations as a way of challenging the intellect and an excellent way to relax. For many people the puzzle is a throwback to a simpler period where the trappings of modern life such as television and computer games did not exist. But with many modern innovations and research into the benefits of challenging the brain the jigsaw puzzle is perhaps making a resurgence as a source of entertainment and relaxation.

The jigsaw puzzle is typically thought of as a relatively modern creation. However, it is John Spilsbury who is largely credited for the commercialisation of the Jigsaw puzzle in the 1760s. As a mapmaker and engraver he pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. It is not clear as to what it was that motivated Spilsbury to do this but one interesting theory is that it he used this as a method for teaching geography. This theory has some merit as many of us, as children, would have encountered puzzles of geographical areas which perhaps without us realizing it were used as an entertaining way of teaching us about the world around us.

Puzzles for adults emerged in the 1900s but initially these were extremely tricky and expensive. These early puzzles were challenging because they tended to be cut exactly on the colour lines with no two colour transition pieces. It was therefore difficult for the person doing the puzzle as there was no signal to suggest when the ground for example moved into the sky. Also the pieces did not interlock so one careless sweep of the arm and all the hard work could be undone. As most early puzzles were made from wood, the pieces needed to be cut out one at a time, which made the process very time consuming and therefore very expensive. It also meant that no two puzzles were the same.

The two innovations that were to bring the puzzle to a wider audience were the invention of interlocking pieces and the introduction of die-cut cardboard jigsaw puzzles. These two developments transformed the fortunes of puzzle makers so much so that in the US, at the peak in 1933, 10 million puzzles were being sold per week.

Sadly since this peak in 1933 sales have declined but modern innovations such as the 3D puzzle has introduced a new generation to the joys of puzzles. Furthermore there is a growing body of evidence to support the idea that exercising your brain can help prevent the onset of Alzheimers lending weight to the idea that doing a jigsaw puzzle is a great thing to do.

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