What Is the Oldest Jigsaw Puzzle?

Are you an avid puzzler who often sits down to enjoy a few hours of puzzling? It may be hard for you to imagine a world without jigsaws, though one existed until a clever person invented the crazy concept. Today, jigsaw puzzles baffle some of the smartest minds of the century!

The oldest jigsaw puzzle was a 1766 puzzle depicting Europe’s map. London cartographer and engraver John Spilsbury created a “dissected map,” which is widely accepted as the first jigsaw puzzle. This creation aimed to educate and help children learn Europe’s geography. Spilsbury went on to create many more dissected maps that are present in museums as part of public collections.

The first jigsaw in the history of puzzles was created to teach geography to students in the local schools. John Spilsbury was making dissected maps to help with geography education; jigsaw puzzles were invented in the act. The first jigsaws were made with wood and had a different name- dissected puzzles. The puzzles later received their new name after the invention of the jigsaw (a type of knife) in the 80s. According to historians, the year 1906 saw the first recorded use of the term “jigsaw puzzle.”

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The Invention of Jigsaw Puzzles

The credit for the invention and popularization of interlocking picture puzzles goes to John Spilsbury, a British cartographer, and map engraver. He created and published a map, also known as the "dissected map,” of Europe in 1766.

Spilsbury used marquetry saw to cut along the national boundaries. Carving each country into individual puzzle pieces and fixing the map on a piece of wood, he invented the first jigsaw puzzle in the eighteenth century. This dissected map mounted on wood was created to help children learn European geography.

The London cartographer saw value in his creation, so he continued constructing map puzzles for more countries and regions. It became a business venture, and soon, more wood engravers started constructing jigsaw puzzles. Eventually, puzzles became a trendy pastime for adults. However, only the wealthy could afford to use handcrafted wooden puzzles.

What Were the Earliest Jigsaws Made of?

You can find multiple antique puzzles in public collections. The best part about looking at some of the first few puzzles is marveling at their excellent condition. You will be impressed to find that the wood did not warp over two and a half centuries. The first ever jigsaw puzzles were made using hygroscopic wood that reacts to environmental changes. For instance, the wood contracts or expands with the changes in heat and humidity.

Typically, wood expands in the direction in which the fibers orient themselves during a tree's growing period- across the grain. You can determine a wood's grain by studying the patterned growth rings. Trees grow in circles; therefore, the grain regularity largely depends on the board-cutting style and method. For example, the grain is uneven if the board is a tangible cut, leading to warping. On the other hand, even grain distribution ensures proper reaction to environmental changes, preventing warping.

Wealthy puzzle owners preferred mahogany as their first choice of wood for puzzles. Initially, puzzle makers used marquetry saws to cut the wood into interlocking pieces. Over a century later, they switched to fretsaws; it was then that the term “jigsaw” became associated with the puzzles. However, the name “jigsaw puzzles” was nothing but a misnomer, as the application was incorrect.

Wood is a sturdy option with a significant profit margin, making it the preferred material. However, the lesser quality material, cardboard, was introduced in the puzzle-making industry in the late 1800s. Soon, they became a common material choice for jigsaws.

The Great Depression and Jigsaws

Jigsaws especially started gaining increasing popularity during the 1930s. These puzzles offered an inexpensive form of entertainment during the Great Depression, after all. It was an excellent activity for families that could not afford to go out and spend cash on other entertainment options.

Due to the rise in popularity and demand, a new puzzle-making technique was introduced to make jigsaws more readily available. Besides allowing mass production and more efficiency, the “die cut” technique produced more complex jigsaw puzzles. New and challenging puzzles attracted more adults to this form of entertainment.

Not forgetting, brands started using jigsaws as promotional products, making product pictures and logo puzzles for consumers. After World War II, the sales of wooden jigsaw puzzles steadily started declining. As such, the cardboard puzzles were the only jigsaws that remained.

Jigsaw Puzzles- The Modernization

Tower Press became the leading puzzle manufacturing company soon after World War II. In addition, many small manufacturers started contributing to the growing puzzle industry. Typically, they played their part in modernization through artisanal puzzles.

To today date, people use puzzles in various settings. For instance, they form a powerful teaching tool in educational institutes. Additionally, they provide a great source of entertainment for groups and individuals alike.

Jigsaws helps improves brain function by promoting increased cognitive function. Not forgetting, these puzzles enhance visual-spatial reasoning and improve short-term memory. Puzzling is one of the best brain activities that use creative and logical thinking to engage both sides of your brain. In essence, jigsaws are excellent for improving your brain’s ability to think logically and critically while increasing your attention span. It would be fair to say that the activity serves as a brain workout.

Puzzling helps strengthen your skills, regardless of your age. From children to adults, people of all ages use puzzles as a tool for cognitive exercise. It is a popular activity in health care facilities with Alzheimer’s patients. In children with autism, puzzling can help develop and refine motor skills.

Not forgetting, many people use puzzles as a form of entertainment that helps them relax. It is a fun-filled activity; you can incorporate different challenges to make it more entertaining.

Bottom Line

Jigsaw puzzles are an excellent form of entertainment, though their purpose of creation was entirely different. John Spilsbury invented jigsaws to educate geography students in the local schools. Seeing their fantastic benefits, Spilsbury continued making more map puzzles. Puzzles particularly became popular among adults during the Great Depression as a form of entertainment. 

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