The history of jigsaw puzzles begins in the 1760s when London mapmaker John Spilsbury attached a world map to a piece of wood and carved out each country. People could learn geography by putting the puzzle back together. The product became popular and Spilsbury continued to build more puzzles with different area maps and sell them.
Originally, jigsaw puzzles were called "dissections." The "jigsaw" name comes from the fact that early puzzles were created by using a jigsaw to cut the pieces. In fact, a more delicate version of a jigsaw, a fretsaw, was more commonly used.
Early puzzles were made from wood. The picture was drawn or pasted to the front, and lines for cutting on the back. In the late 19th century, cardboard was introduced and the puzzles could be die-cut.
By the 1930s, hydraulic presses were used to cut the pieces, allowing for mass manufacture. Later, roller presses were used which make them cheaper to create, allowing for a greater variety of puzzles.
While the original puzzles were maps, soon all kinds of images and artwork were used. In the early 20th century, puzzles were being made more complex and became suitable for adults as well as children.
By the 1930s, jigsaw puzzles were being used as a marketing tool, with advertising on the front of the pieces. Cardboard puzzles were cheap enough to make that some were given away with other products.
Jigsaw puzzles became very popular in the United States during the Great Depression. They were cheap family entertainment that could be replayed or passed on to others. Weekly puzzles were even sold at newsstands.
After World War II, the popularity of jigsaw puzzles declined. Wooden puzzles are rare today, but cardboard ones are a standard item in toy, game and department stores.
The creation of virtual computer jigsaw puzzles, lead by sites like JustJigsawPuzzles.com, have lead to a resurgence of jigaw puzzles as a pastime.