Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle: An International Pastime

The jigsaw puzzle, which dates back to the late 1700s, is one of the oldest types of entertainment. The jigsaw puzzle has been through many phases of evolution to become today’s famous pastime. Jigsaw puzzles made of wood can be used for a variety of purposes, including recreation, education, and physical and emotional therapy.

A Beginning as an Educational Tool

John Spilsbury invented the forerunner to the modern jigsaw puzzle in 1767 as an educational tool to aid children in learning the geography of England and Wales. There were no interlocking bits on the wooden map. Interlocking bits were not added to jigsaws until years later when saws that could cut with the precision required to create the interlock were invented. From this shaky start through the 1800s, wooden jigsaw puzzles gained popularity and became a common pastime.

The New Favorite Parlor Game

Adults in the United States and the United Kingdom became obsessed with wooden jigsaw puzzles by the early 1900s. Because of the high cost of making these wooden puzzles, they were mostly reserved for the elite, and jigsaw puzzles started to compete with bridge and lawn bowling as parlor games. As the popularity of jigsaw puzzles increased, major game companies such as Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley started to develop them.

Introduction of Shaped and Interlocking Pieces

Parker Brothers began developing wooden jigsaw puzzles with interlocking and molded objects in the first decade of the 1900s, owing to the success of jigsaws. About the same time, die-cutting was used to make cardboard jigsaw puzzles. Most makers, on the other hand, kept manufacturing wooden puzzles, believing that there was no market for inexpensive cardboard puzzles.

Depression-Era Growth of Jigsaws

With the start of the Great Depression, demand for low-cost, die-cut cardboard puzzles skyrocketed. Jigsaw puzzles proved to be not only fun but also a perfect stress reliever for families. A jigsaw puzzle may also be traded with a pal until completed, continuing the theme of low-cost entertainment.

A Boost from Advertising

Companies began using jigsaw puzzles as advertising giveaways during this time, with many retailers including a puzzle with every order. The “Jig of the Week” was launched and distributed at newsstands during the Great Depression, in the early 1930s. Several series were available, and being the first to put together that week’s puzzle earned the solver bragging rights. Economic hardships and the increase in popularity of low-cost puzzles took their toll on the wooden puzzle makers, though some remained successful.

Introduction of the Personalized Jigsaw

A new manufacturer, Par Puzzles, rose to prominence after the advent of cardboard puzzles. These beautifully designed, hand-cut puzzles were made by brothers who catered to the wealthy, including movie stars and royalty. Par’s claim to fame was custom puzzles, which were often cut with the names of their owners as parts.

The jigsaw puzzle’s success has ebbed and flowed since its peak during the Great Depression. Rising incomes after WWII culminated in higher prices and fewer sales of wooden jigsaw puzzles. Improved printing and reproduction of fine art on jigsaw puzzles culminated in improved sales of cardboard puzzles at the same time.

The majority of puzzles are now made of plastic, although a few manufacturers continue to produce high-quality wooden jigsaw puzzles. From irregularly shaped puzzles to double-sided jigsaws to 3D jigsaws, a wide range of puzzles are now available. They continue to enthrall us and serve as a catalyst for bringing people together with the shared purpose of being the one to put in the final piece.

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