News & Blog

« Back to all news

The History of Jigsaw Puzzles

The first jigsaw puzzle was created by a map engraver called John Spilsbury, in 1762. He mounted one of his master maps onto wood and then cut around the countries. He gave it to children in the local school to help them with their geography education. And in that act jigsaw puzzles were invented. It was an instant hit and the concept was soon copied by others and expanded into other educational images other than just maps, such as farms and religious scenes. At this time all jigsaw puzzles were created from wood, but also at this time they weren’t called jigsaw puzzles, they were called dissected puzzles. The term jigsaw comes from the special saw called a jigsaw that was used to cut the puzzles, but not until the saw was invented in the 1880’s.

first jigsaw puzzle

It was around the mid 1800’s that jigsaw puzzles started to become popular with adults as well as children. This can be seen in a puzzle called the Star of the West which depicted an adult and horse scene, clearly aimed at adults.

But at the end of the 1800’s is when jigsaws went through rapid growth. This was mainly due to 3 reasons:

1.    1. Lithographic printing techniques were considerably more sophisticated and wood could have a high quality print adhered to its surface. These advanced printing techniques were perfect for jigsaws as they were of a much higher quality enabling much of the images detail to be seen. Colours were also much brighter and more attractive as well.

2.     2. Plywood, where layers of wood are stuck together made for a wood that was easier to cut into intricate shapes as well as being more affordable than the alternative of the time.

3.     3. The tredle jigsaw was invented enabling jigsaw makers to create even more intricate shapes with the added bonus of it being quicker to use at the same time. It was the invention of the tredle jigsaw, which meant puzzle makers became adept at creating puzzles which really tested the puzzler.

tredle jigsaw

Due to these reasons, puzzle makers became more and more adventurous and cut puzzle patterns that would continue to challenge puzzlers. These included adding straight edges into the middle of a puzzle, dissected corners and introducing themed whimsy shapes. One technique which made for very hard jigsaw puzzles was cutting the shape of the puzzle pieces around the elements within the image – this meant it was very hard to match the pieces up as colours did not span 2 pieces. Whimsy shapes became and have continued to be very popular with puzzlers of all ages. Whimsy pieces are puzzle pieces cut onto recognisable shapes, usually themed around the image on the puzzle itself. For example an elephant shape within an image of an African scene. They’re called whimsies as Victorian jigsaw designers often cut them on a whim as they cut the puzzles. These are all techniques that our puzzle designers at Wentworth still continue to use today.

lithographic printers for jigsaw puzzles

 However it wasn’t until the great depression of the 1930’s that jigsaw puzzles started to become really popular. They gave the puzzler the opportunity to accomplish creative tasks easily and cheaply while also forgetting the issues and hardships they were facing on a daily basis

At this time jigsaw puzzles were also used by companies, especially train and cruise liners, to help promote their companies. In the 1920’s GWR with Chad Valley produced a puzzle of their steam engines to help promote the railways and the destinations they went to. Cunard also created smaller postcard sized puzzles they sold on their cruise liners as souvenirs and in 1934 produced large puzzle of the Queen Mary before it was even afloat.

GWR train shaped jigsaw puzzle

In the 1930’s Victory puzzles produced wooden puzzles in higher quantities and put them in boxes with the finished image on it. Before this time there were no boxes with images on them to follow when completing your jigsaw puzzle. It would have been considered cheating if the puzzler had used one as reference before this time.

Jigsaw puzzles were generally still made of wood right up until the outbreak of war in 1939. It was around the start of WW2, with plywood being in very short supply, did jigsaw puzzles start to be made out of cardboard. However initially the cardboard used was of very poor quality. But it did make puzzles even cheaper and could continue to be enjoyed throughout this period.

Wentworth Wooden Puzzles continue to make wooden jigsaw puzzles and with the introduction of very high quality and accurate lasers, we can create even more intricate and difficult cut patterns and the most exquisite whimsy shapes. They therefore continue to be an engaging and enjoyable puzzling experience, perfectly combining traditional pastimes with modern laser cutting technology.

The History of Jigsaw Puzzles