English cartographer John Spilsbury created the first known jigsaw puzzle in the 1760s when he pasted a map to a wooden board and cut around the countries’ borders. Jigsaw puzzles soon became a popular European method to teach geography and history to children of wealthy families. The first American jigsaw puzzles made their appearance during the 1850s, and following the Civil War, people utilized these “dissected pictures” as a source of education and entertainment. American jigsaw puzzles in the 19th century often depicted maps, children’s stories, and scenes of industrialization in the United States. Publishing companies such as Milton Bradley and McLoughlin Brothers soon joined in the production of children’s games and puzzles. Some puzzle-makers cut costs on their puzzles by using color lithography rather than hand-colored prints, or adhering the pictures to cardboard instead of wood; these measures, along with increased transportation networks, helped to spread the jigsaw puzzle trend across America.
By 1908, wooden puzzles for adults had caught on. The Pastime Puzzles line at Parker Brothers in Salem, Massachusetts featured “figure pieces,” or puzzle segments deliberately cut to appear as animals, geometric forms, or household objects. (Pastime Puzzles had such a high demand that Parker Brothers halted game production and devoted its entire factory to puzzle manufacturing in 1909.) Around this time, companies began to produce interlocking puzzle pieces. For the next two decades, jigsaw puzzles remained a well-liked hobby, but their status surged once again during the Great Depression as home amusements replaced more costly forms of entertainment. (Some smaller-scale puzzle-makers even rented out puzzles to families by the week, and communities established “lending libraries” of puzzles.) Yet another boost in puzzle popularity occurred during World War II, when toy-making materials were diverted to the war effort, while cardboard for puzzles remained in abundant supply.
Anne D. Williams, Professor Emerita of Economics at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, is a preeminent jigsaw puzzle historian and collector. Williams has conducted decades of research and written numerous articles on jigsaw puzzle history; she has also appeared on many national television programs and in local news features on puzzles. Williams joined the Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors (AGPC) as a Charter Member, and she received the 2007 AGPC Spilsbury Award as an acknowledgment of her contributions to the AGPC and for being the “world’s foremost expert on jigsaw puzzles.” Williams’ books include Jigsaw Puzzles: An Illustrated History and Price Guide (1990) and The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History (2004).