Unraveling the Fascinating History of Jigsaw Puzzles

Unraveling the Fascinating History of Jigsaw Puzzles (3)

Picture this: You’re huddled around a table, your fingertips gingerly picking up and placing puzzle pieces, trying to recreate a challenging and captivating image. Yes, we’re talking about jigsaw puzzles! In this article, we will delve into the captivating history of jigsaw puzzles, tracing their origins, exploring their rise in popularity, and even examining the evolution of puzzle designs. So, let’s embark on this puzzling journey through time!

Early Origins of Puzzles

Puzzles have entertained minds for centuries, captivating ancient civilizations and sparking curiosity. In ancient Egypt, for example, intricate mechanical puzzles were found in the tombs of pharaohs. These puzzles tested the ingenuity of the solver and provided hours of entertainment.

The Invention of the Jigsaw Puzzle

The birth of the jigsaw puzzle, as we know it today, can be traced back to the late 18th century. It was John Spilsbury, an English cartographer, who created the first jigsaw puzzle around 1760. He mounted a map onto a wooden board and carefully cut it into small, interlocking pieces. Little did he know he was laying the foundation for a beloved pastime.

Rise in Popularity

As the 19th century unfolded, jigsaw puzzles gained momentum and captured the hearts of people worldwide. They became a popular educational tool, allowing children to learn geography, history, and even fine motor skills while having fun. Adults, too, found solace in the immersive puzzle-solving experience, providing an escape from the pressures of daily life.

Jigsaw Puzzles during the Great Depression

Unraveling the Fascinating History of Jigsaw Puzzles - The Depression

The Great Depression, a period of severe economic downturn in the 1930s, had a significant impact on the lives of many individuals and families. Amid the hardships and challenges of this era, jigsaw puzzles offered a unique form of entertainment, solace, and escape.

During the Great Depression, financial constraints made it difficult for families to afford conventional forms of entertainment. However, jigsaw puzzles provided an affordable source of amusement that could be enjoyed repeatedly.

Jigsaw Puzzles in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s

The period spanning the 1940s to the 1970s witnessed continued popularity and evolution in the world of jigsaw puzzles. These decades witnessed the jigsaw puzzle industry adapting to the changing times and cultural influences. Puzzles became a reflection of society, encompassing patriotic themes, licensed characters, counterculture art, and pop culture icons.

The evolving landscape of jigsaw puzzles throughout these years ensured that there was always something for everyone, allowing individuals to express their interests and embrace the trends of the time.

Let’s take a closer look at the jigsaw puzzle scene during each of these decades:

The 1940s: Jigsaw Puzzles Amid World War II

Unraveling the Fascinating History of Jigsaw Puzzles - An American Flag Puzzle

During the 1940s, jigsaw puzzles played a role in boosting morale and providing comfort during the challenging times of World War II. Puzzles featuring patriotic themes, wartime imagery, and depictions of military heroes were prevalent. These puzzles offered a sense of unity, encouraged national pride, and served as a form of entertainment and solace for individuals on the home front.

The 1950s: Rise of Television and Licensed Characters

The 1950s marked the rise of television and the emergence of popular licensed characters. This had a significant impact on the world of jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles featuring beloved TV shows, cartoon characters, and iconic brands gained immense popularity. Companies like Milton Bradley and Whitman Publishing became prominent puzzle manufacturers, producing puzzles with familiar characters such as Mickey Mouse, Superman, and popular television personalities.

The 1960s: Counterculture and Psychedelic Designs

The 1960s witnessed a cultural shift with the rise of the counterculture movement and the exploration of psychedelic art. Jigsaw puzzles reflected these cultural changes, featuring bold and vibrant designs inspired by the psychedelic era. Puzzles showcased trippy patterns, abstract art, and mind-bending visuals that appealed to the adventurous and free-spirited individuals of the time. The puzzles became a means of self-expression and a reflection of the evolving cultural landscape.

The 1970s: Pop Culture and Puzzle Craze

The 1970s saw a surge in the popularity of jigsaw puzzles, with a particular focus on pop culture themes. Puzzles featuring popular movies, music bands, iconic album covers, and sports heroes became highly sought after. The puzzle craze of the 1970s was fueled by a growing market and diverse puzzle designs that catered to a wide range of interests. Puzzle enthusiasts sought to collect puzzles that reflected their passions and hobbies.

Notable Jigsaw Puzzle Manufacturers

Several manufacturers played pivotal roles in shaping the history of jigsaw puzzles. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them:

  1. Pastime Puzzles Co.
    • Founded in the early 20th century, Pastime Puzzles Co. revolutionized the industry with their high-quality puzzles.
    • Their commitment to craftsmanship and attention to detail set a new standard for jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts.
  2. Parker Brothers
    • Parker Brothers, a renowned game company, entered the puzzle market in the early 20th century.
    • Their innovative designs and wide range of puzzle offerings made them a household name.
  3. Ravensburger
    • Ravensburger, a German company established in 1883, became synonymous with exceptional puzzle quality.
    • Their commitment to precision cutting and stunning imagery elevated the puzzle experience to new heights.

Evolution of Jigsaw Puzzle Designs

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Over time, jigsaw puzzle designs have evolved, reflecting changing tastes and advancements in manufacturing techniques. Let’s explore these transformations:

Transition to Cardboard Puzzles

Advancements in printing and manufacturing techniques made jigsaw puzzles more accessible to a wider audience. Traditional wooden puzzles gave way to mass-produced cardboard puzzles, which were more affordable and offered a broader range of designs. Puzzle manufacturers invested in cutting-edge machinery and streamlined production processes, making puzzles more readily available for purchase.

Puzzle Themes and Imagery

The 1900s saw an explosion of creativity in puzzle themes and designs. Manufacturers started producing puzzles featuring diverse imagery, including landscapes, famous artworks, animals, and historical scenes. The variety of puzzle themes catered to different interests and allowed individuals to choose puzzles that resonated with their personal preferences, further fueling the popularity of jigsaw puzzles.

Technological Advancements

Advancements in technology have greatly influenced the puzzle industry. Two notable advancements are:

Mechanical Puzzle Cutters
  • With the introduction of mechanical puzzle cutters, manufacturers could produce puzzles more efficiently.
  • These machines allowed for intricate and precise cuts, enhancing the puzzle-solving experience.
Computer-Assisted Puzzle Design
  • The advent of computer technology brought about a new era in puzzle design.
  • Designers could now create puzzles digitally, offering greater flexibility and variety in puzzle shapes and sizes.

Modern-Day Jigsaw Puzzles

Unraveling the Fascinating History of Jigsaw Puzzles - Modern Day Puzzles

In today’s digital age, jigsaw puzzles continue to captivate enthusiasts both online and offline. The rise of online puzzle platforms and mobile puzzle apps has made it even easier for puzzle lovers to indulge in their favorite pastime anytime, anywhere. Virtual puzzles provide the convenience of solving puzzles on screens, with a wide range of themes and difficulty levels to choose from.


Curious minds often have questions about jigsaw puzzles. Let’s address some frequently asked questions to provide further insights into this beloved pastime:

Are there benefits to solving jigsaw puzzles?

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Absolutely! Solving jigsaw puzzles offers numerous benefits. It enhances cognitive skills such as problem-solving, spatial reasoning, and critical thinking. Puzzles also improve hand-eye coordination and concentration. Additionally, they serve as a therapeutic and stress-relieving activity, promoting relaxation and mindfulness.

What is the ideal difficulty level for beginners?

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The ideal difficulty level for beginners depends on personal preference and experience. It’s best to start with puzzles featuring fewer pieces and simpler imagery. Typically, puzzles with 500 to 1000 pieces are considered suitable for beginners. As you gain confidence and skill, you can gradually increase the difficulty level.

How can I preserve and store completed jigsaw puzzles?

Preserving and storing completed jigsaw puzzles can be done using various methods. One popular option is to use puzzle mats or boards that allow you to roll up and safely store the puzzle without damaging the pieces. Another method is to carefully transfer the completed puzzle onto a foam board or use puzzle glue to secure the pieces together permanently. This way, you can display your masterpiece or store it for future enjoyment.

Additional Reading


Jigsaw Puzzles history is a testament to the enduring appeal of this beloved pastime. From their humble beginnings as wooden maps to the mass-produced cardboard puzzles we know today, jigsaw puzzles have captured the hearts and minds of people for centuries. They offer a unique blend of entertainment, education, and relaxation.

So, the next time you gather around a table, contemplating the challenge of a jigsaw puzzle, take a moment to appreciate the rich history behind it. Each piece you fit together represents a thread woven into the captivating tapestry of jigsaw puzzle history.

By understanding the origins, rise in popularity, notable manufacturers, the evolution of designs, technological advancements, and modern-day adaptations of jigsaw puzzles, you gain a deeper appreciation for this timeless form of entertainment. So, grab your favorite puzzle and immerse yourself in the history and joy of solving these puzzling enigmas!

Remember to keep the joy of puzzling alive and share it with others. Happy puzzling, everyone!

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