The Tangram had
already been around in China for a long time when it was first brought to
America by Captain M. Donnaldson, on his ship, Trader, in 1815. When it
docked in Canton, the captain was given a pair of Tangram books (by author Sang-Hsia-koi‘s). They were then brought
with the ship to Philadelphia, where it docked in February 1816. The first Tangram book to be published
in America was based on the pair brought by Donnaldson.
The puzzle was originally popularized by The
Eighth Book Of Tan,
a fictitious history of Tangram, which claimed that
the game was invented 4,000 years prior by a god named Tan. The puzzle eventually
reached England, where it became very fashionable. The craze quickly spread to other European countries, this was mostly due to a
pair of British Tangram books, The
Fashionable Chinese Puzzle, and the accompanying solution book, Key. Soon, Tangram sets were being
exported in great number from China, made of various materials, from glass, to
wood, to tortoise shell.
Many of these unusual and
exquisite Tangram sets made their way to Denmark. Danish interest in Tangrams skyrocketed around
1818, when two books on the puzzle were published. The first of these was Mandarinen (About the
Chinese Game). This was written by a student at Copenhagen University, which was a non-fictional
work about the history and popularity of Tangrams. The second, Det nye chinesiske Gaadespil (The new
Chinese Puzzle Game), consisted of 339 puzzles copied from The
Eighth Book of Tan,
as well as one original.
One contributing factor
in the popularity of the game in Europe was that although the Catholic Church
forbade many forms of
recreation on the Sabbath, they made no
objection to puzzle games such as the Tangram. Tangrams were
first introduced to the German public by industrialist Friedrich Adolf Richter around 1891. The
sets were made out of stone, and marketed under the
name "The Anchor Puzzle“.
More internationally, the
First World War saw a great resurgence of interest in Tangrams, on the homefront and trenches of both
sides. During this time, it occasionally went under the name of "The Sphinx" an alternative title
for the "Anchor Puzzle" sets.