Why Was The Chainsaw Invented? Childbirth And The World’s First Chainsaw

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Why was the chainsaw invented?

The initial answer sounds horrific, but it’s not quite as bad as it sounds (though don’t get me wrong, it is still bad)!

Chainsaws were first invented and first used to help women deliver their babies.

If a woman was delivering a baby in the breech position, or if the baby was simply ‘too big’ or ‘stuck,’ a hand-cranked chainsaw with fine cutting teeth was used to cut through her cartilage and ligaments to get the baby out.

Think about it: before caesarian sections were commonly used, all babies had to come out through the birth canal. Devices like these were sometimes necessary.

You may not want to read on after hearing this, but that was the original purpose of the chainsaw!

Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

why was the chainsaw invented
The first chainsaw

When I first heard that the chainsaw was originally invented to help in childbirth, the image of a modern chainsaw in an operating theatre came to mind.

Can you imagine your obstetrician coming into the delivery suite revving a 90cc chainsaw like the Husky 592XP?

If this was the case, I’m sure just the sight and sound of the chainsaw would cause any woman to give birth, no matter how stuck the baby was!

However, as you can see in the picture of the first chainsaw above, it is not much like the chainsaws we used for cutting firewood and felling trees at all.

It is more like a large knife with a chain on it.

I don’t think doctors using it would be required to don chainsaw chaps and other safety gear before using!

Chainsaw Childbirth

what was the chainsaw invented for
How the earliest chainsaw was used

You can see the first chainsaw being used in this image – notice how much smaller it is than our modern chainsaws.

While it bears little resemblance to the chainsaws we use today, they really did originate from this medical chainsaw invented by Scottish doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray.

Chainsaws were invented for childbirth, but how were they actually used?

The procedure was known as symphysiotomy, and is defined as, ‘an outdated surgical procedure in which the cartilage of the pubic symphysis is divided to widen the pelvis allowing childbirth when there is a mechanical problem.’

However, many who went through the procedure defined it as, ‘a butchering’.

It was actually continued in Ireland until not so long ago – you can learn more about it in this video on YouTube.

Many women were brutalized (the word torture has also been used) by the practice which left them unable to walk after childbirth, and with other lifelong consequences.

Possible problems that necessitated chainsaw intervention in childbirth:

  • Breech birth – this is when the baby is coming out feet first
  • Shoulders stuck – a dangerous position for both mom and baby
  • The baby’s head failing to transition through the birth canal – can happen for various reasons

The procedure was originally done without anesthesia and could include the breaking of bones. With the introduction of anesthesia, the procedure was used more frequently.

Thankfully, Cesarean section is what is used today in place of a chainsaw in childbirth.

Instead of attempting to widen the pelvis, a comparatively smaller and less intrusive abdominal incision is made to retrieve the baby.

Who Invented The Chainsaw?

Who invented the chainsaw?

The original chainsaw was invented and used by two Scottish doctors in the 1780s.

Their names were John Aitken and James Jeffray.

They based their design on watch chain teeth that were positioned with a hand crank.

This chainsaw was also used for other medical procedures such as:

  • removing diseased bone
  • cutting out infected flesh
  • amputating limbs

So while the first chainsaw was initially used for medical purposes reminiscent of Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we can be thankful that it no longer is the case.

We can also be thankful that many enterprising and entrepreneurial folk took this device and developed it into what we know and love today.

When Did They Stop Using Chainsaws For Childbirth?

who invented the chainsaw
The Gigli Saw replaced the chainsaw in medical use

The use of a medical chainsaw in childbirth continued in the West into the late 1800s, though it was improved upon since the 1700s.

It is said to still sometimes be used in parts of the world today when a cesarean is not possible, though the Gigli saw (pictured above) mostly overtook the use of the original medical chainsaws.

Both the chainsaw and the Gigli saw were also used for amputating limbs, along with deceased flesh and bones, but the original purpose was to help out women having trouble delivering their babies.

Tik Tok Video On The First Chainsaw

The original use of a chainsaw was shared in this TikTok video that went viral.

It turned ‘chainsaw invention’ and ‘why was the chainsaw invented’ into a major trending topic, and it’s not hard to see why.

The more horrific something is, the more we’re fascinated by it, right? – Especially if it was in the past and not likely to be part of our experience.

This TikTokking gentleman also mentions that a German doctor was involved. He is referring to a German orthopaedist named Bernhard Heine who designed another version of the chainsaw in 1830.

And, as an aside, if you want to learn more about the Black & Decker chainsaw mentioned in the TikTok, you’ll find it in our round-up of the best battery chainsaws.

I’d prefer this in the operating theatre over a gas chainsaw at least!

When Was The First Wood Cutting Chainsaw Invented?

earliest stihl chainsaw 1926
The first chainsaw for cutting wood

This is an image of the first chainsaw for forestry and logging work – the first chainsaw for cutting wood rather than flesh and bones!

Interestingly, it’s also the first Stihl chainsaw because the first wood chainsaw was invented by Andreas Stihl – the founder of the Stihl chainsaw company.

Most people are also surprised to hear that this original chainsaw for wood is an electric saw – NOT gas!

It was brought to market in 1926, weighed 105 lbs, and required two people for it to be used.

However, the first gas-powered chainsaw was not far behind it.

Andreas Stihl brought the first gas chainsaw to market in 1929.

This was known as’The Tree-Felling Machine’ and it looked very much like its predecessor. It weighed 101 lbs and also required two people to operate it.

I won’t go into any more details here because you can find out all about it in our complete article on the first Stihl chainsaw here. It’s a fascinating story and an important piece of chainsaw history.

Chainsaws Invented For Childbirth

What were chainsaws invented for?

Childbirth!

But we’re lucky to live in slightly more civilized times today.

This isn’t a complete history of chainsaws, but it helps explain the chainsaw’s original use.

If you love learning about the history of the everyday products we use today, and in particular, garden products, I’ve got a book recommendation.

Check out Garden Heroes and Villains by George Drower (here on Amazon in hardcover or Kindle). He goes in-depth into the early history of the chainsaw (both its medical use and then garden use) and its role in society.

For more chainsaw history on Fire and Saw, see our post on the meaning of the Husqvarna logo or find out the production years of old Stihl chainsaws.

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22 thoughts on “Why Was The Chainsaw Invented? Childbirth And The World’s First Chainsaw”

  1. This doesn’t sound nice at all. Everything to do with child birth back in the 17, 18, and early to mid 1900s seemed to be hideous. It’s a little better for many women today I think!

    Reply
    • In many parts of the world it’s still just as bad. Women go through horrific things still. In many parts of Africa women are not even sown back up when they tear during birth and so it heals all wrong and causes problems for life – and that’s a common consequence of birth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if it will get much better in poorer nations any time soon.

      Reply
    • I totally agree Erin 💚 one word = DISTURBING! Thankful to be alive now, but I also wonder when people look back at our time in 100 years what aspects of childbirth today that they find disturbing? No doubt there are issues with how medicalized childbirth has become today, and I’m sure we haven’t got things 100% right in every circumstance either! However, thankfully we’re not using chainsaws to get babies out of women, and symphysiotomy is no longer practiced in most of the world. xoxo Charlotte.

      Reply
  2. My friend was telling me about this so I had to look it up. ARRRRGH!!! How horrible! You bring a chainsaw anywhere near my bits and you’ll know about it!

    Reply
    • Haha well, I can certainly understand not wanting a modern chainsaw used in childbirth, and the original chainsaw isn’t a whole lot better.

      Reply
  3. Besides calling it ‘a butchering’ as you say (and as I believe), where can I read first hand accounts of what it was like to undergo childbirth with the aid of a medical chainsaw? It’s grusome, I know, but I like to hear it from the womens point of view as well.

    Reply
  4. I bet many of the women were like wtf but what would happen if they didn’t do that? What were the alternatives? I imagine both mom and baby would have died without this “chainsaw” intervention during birth. And yes, the term chainsaw childbirth is pretty misleading!

    Reply
  5. I had such a traumatic birth that I almost prefer they used a chiansaw… well, not really, but almost. I think it might have done less damage.

    Reply
  6. IT would be interesting if you could also add info about the first chainsaw for wood. Who made the first chainsaw for felling trees and cutting wood. Who invented or developed the first modern chainsaw? When did this happen? I know the Husqvarna company has a very long history but I think they started out making guns, right? BEfore moving onto manufacturing chainsaws for loggers. Don’t get me wrong – the chainsaw childbirth thing is interesting, but I was looking for who invented the modern chainsaw.

    Reply
  7. i imagine the teeth on the first medical chainsaw needed to be incredibly sharp to cleanly cut through the flesh and cartilage. im sure the doctors knew not to make too much of a mess because they are the ones that need to clean it up afterwards? all the same, no doubt there were a lot of post-birth infections – not to mention trauma. i was also wondering who were the first guinea pigs for this experiment? poor things.

    Reply

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