Like the origin of playing cards, the origin of solitaire is largely unknown as there are no historical records to support it. There is much conjecture and controversy about the history of Solitaire as to where it actually began. However the first written documentation of solitaire doesn't show up until the end of the 16th century and since then Solitaire has had a long history and at one time had a less than stellar reputation.
Around the 12th century the game "Al-qirq" (the mill, in Arabic), which later became the game of "Alquerque", was the most prevalent game until around the end of the 12th century in Europe. Playing cards were first introduced in Italy in the 1300s. During that time they also became popular in Northern Europe. There is a card game called Tarok that was invented around that time that is still played to this day. It is also believed that solitaire games were first played with tarot cards, which would indicate that solitaire most likely preceded traditional multi-player card games.
The French engraving of Princess de Soubise showing her playing a card game, dates from 1697. Legend says that Solitaire was invented by Pelisson, a French mathematician, to entertain Louis XIV - known as "Roi Soleil" (Sun King). Another legend says that a unfortunate French nobleman, while imprisoned in the Bastille, devised the game using a Fox & Geese Board (the Fox & Geese Board has been used for a variety of board games in Northern Europe since the Vikings). There is doubt about these legends, since Ovide wrote about the game and described it in his book "Ars Amatoria".
The end of the sixteenth century was an active period for the invention of various card games. This was when the ace first appeared as high instead of low in the rankings of the cards. Several new card games were invented during this time and new variations were added, so this is likely a time when solitaire games were invented and named as well.
The first known solitaire game rules were recorded during the Napoleonic era. The author of War and Peace, Tolstoy, enjoyed playing solitaire and mentioned it in a scene from his famous novel. Tolstoy sometimes used cards to make decisions for him in a somewhat superstitious way. Most early literature mentioning patience is of French origin. Even the very word 'solitaire' is of a French origin, and it means 'patience'. The names of most early solitaire games are French names as well, with the most well known being La Belle Lucie. When Napoleon was exiled to St. Helena in 1816 he used to play Patience to pass the time. Deported to the island lost in the ocean, knew what confinement felt like fully; he also knew how cards could solace one sentenced to solitude. During his exile at St Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte played patience in his spare time. Some solitaire games were named after him, such as Napoleon at St. Helena, Napoleon's Square, etc. It is not known whether Napoleon invented any of these solitaire games or someone else around that same time period.
Publications about solitaire began to appear in the late nineteenth century. Lady Adelaide Cadogan is believed to have written the first book on the rules of solitaire and patience games called "Illustrated Games of Patience" just after the Civil War (1870) containing 25 games. It is still reprinted occasionally even today. Other non English compilations on solitaire may have been written before that, however. Before this, otherwise there was no literature about solitaire, not even in such books as Charles Cotton's The Compleat Gamester (1674), Abbé Bellecour's Academie des Jeux (1674), and Bohn's Handbook of Games (1850), all of which are used as reference on card games.In England "Cadogan" is a household word for solitaire in the same manner that "Hoyle" is for card games.
Lady Cadogan's book spawned other collections by other writers such as E.D.Chaney, Annie B. Henshaw, Dick and Fitzgerald, H. E. Jones (a.k.a. Cavendish), Angelo Lewis (a.k.a. Professor Hoffman), Basil Dalton, and Ernest Bergholt. E.D. Chaney wrote a book on solitaire games called "Patience" and Annie B. Henshaw wrote a book with an interesting title "Amusements for Invalids". Several years later Dick and Fitzgerald in New York published "Dick's Games of Patience" in 1883, followed by a second edition that was published in 1898. Author, Henry Jones, wrote a fairly reliable book on solitaire called "Patience Games". Another Jones, not related to Henry, Miss Mary Whitmore Jones wrote 5 volumes of solitaire books over a twenty year period around the the 1890's. Several other publishers of various game books also added solitaire to their long lists of games in their titles. One of the most complete solitaire books was written by Albert Morehead and Geoffrey Mott-Smith. Their latest edition contains rules to over 225 solitaire games and was used in this writing.
Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" mentions a scene that took place in 1808 where the characters were playing patience. Charles Dickens "Great Expectations" mentions solitaire in its story. In Evelyn Waugh's "A Handful of Dust", a character plays patience while waiting for news of a death to reach London.
In Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel [The Brothers Karamazov], the character Grushenka played a solitaire game called "Fools", a Russian equivalent of "Idiot's Delight", to get through times of crisis. A very popular solitaire game, spider solitaire, was played by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Somerset Maugham's "The Gentleman in the Parlour" mentions Spider solitaire and quotes playing solitaire as "a flippant disposition. In John Steinbeck's novella Of [Mice and Men], protagonist George Milton often plays Solitaire on the road and on the farm. In "Peter Duck", one of the books in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series, Captain Flint keeps himself occupied by playing Miss Milligan.
In the 1962 movie "The Manchurian Candidate", Raymond Shaw is compelled to perform specific actions through a brainwashing trigger, which often includes a game of traditional solitaire and finding the queen of diamonds. In the Finnish TV-series "Hovimäki" Aunt Victoria is very fond of playing solitaire.
Several solitaire games have gained fame through literature and other avenues. Some solitaire games were invented in unexpected places. A notable inventor of solitaire games was Bill Beers. He was in a mental asylum when he invented a variation of Cribbage Solitaire. Prisoners had plenty of time to play solitaire, but were unable to use traditional cards because they could be used as an edged weapon. They were forced to use thicker tiles for cards that were bulky and hard to handle.
A famous casino is responsible for the invention of a very popular solitaire game. Mr. Canfield, who owned a casino in Saratoga, invented a game where one would purchase a deck of cards for $52 and obtain $5 for every card played to the foundations. He gained an average of $25 per game, however, each game required a dealer of sorts to watch the player, so the profit was not as high as one might think. The actual name of this popular game was Klondike, but the name Canfield has stuck and is almost as commonly used as the word patience. Due to its difficulty to win, the time needed to play and the lack of choices along the way, Klondike has lost some popularity to other popular solitaire games. Today most people refer to Klondike as simply Solitaire.
Both solitaires and reasons why people enjoy playing with these patchworks of cards have, of course, changed since the old times the solitaires appeared. In the contemporary world, we sometimes need a break from an everyday hustle and tedious treadmill. Solving solitaires is not only a way of time-killing distraction; it is also a sure way to relax after work. Long winter nights, it helped Jack London's characters to amuse their leisure. A great musician, Nicolo Paganini was also in favor of solving solitaires; his best-liked solitaire was later called after his name.
A good solitaire not only helps you relax and kill time; it is a great mental gymnastic as well. This is why solitaires were appealing to mathematicians like Martin Gardner and Donald Knut. As his contemporaries witnessed, Prince Metternich, an eminent 19-century diplomat, used to sit and ponder over knotty solitaires before starting most difficult negotiations.
Today most people refer to Klondike as simply 'Solitaire'. Due to its difficulty to win, the time needed to play and the lack of choices along the way, Klondike has lost some popularity to other popular solitaire games.
When we think of solitaire games today, many people would immediately think of the digital versions for computers, for example solitaire for mac and solitaire games for PC, however, there are still millions of people that play the "old-fashion way" with a standard deck of cards, perhaps much like the deck of cards Napoleon played with nearly 200 years ago.