The story of the jigsaw puzzle goes a long way, back to the 1760s, and a young man from London, by the name of John Spilsbury, the younger brother of Jonathan Spilsbury, a successful English engraver and portraitist. He himself was practiced in engraving, but his passion led him in a very different direction. He apprenticed under Thomas Jefferys, the Royal Cartographer to King George III, who was the biggest map supplier of his day. He produced maps and atlases for the government as well as private citizens, most notably of North America. The New World was still vastly unexplored and newer and more detailed maps were needed to ease navigation and settle territorial disputes. Under him Spilsbury studied the craft and soon opened up his own business. In addition to maps and prints, he established himself as a printer of children’s educational books. This was probably what gave him the idea for his most famous accomplishment.
In 1766 he affixed a world map to a piece of wood and carved out each country along the national borders. He called his invention a “Dissected Map” and it quickly became a fun and interactive way to teach the aristocracy’s children about the lands, that the British Empire ruled. Among them were even the King's own children. As these puzzles grew in popularity, new models appeared and around the 1820s had become a favorite children’s toy, not used solely for education. In 1880 the first fretsaw was introduced and soon became the tool of choice for cutting apart the pieces. Hence, the name “jigsaw”, which was much easier to market than the previous “dissection”.
Cardboard puzzles appeared as early as the 1800s but were viewed as cheap and of lower quality. So wooden sets remained predominating, all the way until the Great Depression. During those times the cardboard jigsaw rose in popularity as a cheap and long-lasting form of entertainment. Puzzles became ever more complex, capturing the attention of children and adults alike. Small sets were given away in promotions and advertisements and newsstands even started selling series, known as “weekly puzzles”.