Did you know that the first early wooden puzzles were created back in the mid 1700s by European mapmakers? Using a maquetry saw, mapmakers like John Spilsbury created the first jigsaw puzzles by mounting maps or painting pictures on rectangular-shaped pieces of wood. They were then cut into small pieces that were to be arranged in a particular way.
Since it relied on memory and logical thinking, this became a popular method to teach geography to schoolchildren. Puzzle themes expanded over time to help teach children other subjects. Jigsaw puzzles were mostly used for educational purposes until about 1820, when they started becoming more popular with adults. Paintings of landscapes and animals were the most common designs featured on the wood, which were an enjoyable pastime for anyone looking to relax or exercise their memory and logic skills.
The techniques of early wooden puzzle making have evolved over time with changes in technology that made construction faster and easier. These changes included tool development and reproduction techniques. Unfortunately, the first puzzles didn’t have interlocking pieces, which means a slight bump to the table or a sneeze could ruin the entire arrangement. They also tended to be very expensive initially, due to the labor involved with cutting each wood piece individually. Thankfully they became more affordable to produce and own in the 20th century.
Early wooden puzzles were available for quite some time – they dominated the market in the early 1900s despite the invention of cheaper cardboard puzzles. The cardboard varieties were introduced at the end of the 19th century, but they didn’t compete with the wooden jigsaw puzzles until the Depression Era.