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!

chainsaw childbirth history

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 one of Stihl’s most powerful chainsaws?

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.

Doctors would not have been required to wear chainsaw chaps and other safety gear before using this primitive chainsaw.

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The procedure was known as symphysiotomy, and is defined as, ‘an outdated surgical procedure in which the cartilage of the pubic symphysis is divided to widen the pelvis allowing childbirth when there is a mechanical problem.’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

First Chainsaw Tik Tok Video

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

This was one of the reasons ‘chainsaw invention’ and ‘why was the chainsaw invented’ became 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 own 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!

The First Wood Cutting Chainsaw

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 one of the first gas chainsaws 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.

Emil Lerp claims the title for the invention of the first gas chainsaw in 1926 – the Dolmar Model A.

However, his legacy is often overlooked due to the ongoing success of Stihl which outshines that of the Dolmar chainsaw company that Lerp founded.

Chainsaw Invention FAQs

Chainsaws in childbirth history
The Stihl 500i is the next level in chainsaw innovation

Did Robert McCulloch invent the chainsaw?

No, Robert McCulloch did not invent the chainsaw.

He was born in 1911 and would have only been 15 years old when Andreas Stihl invented the first chainsaw for cutting down trees.

Some claim that McCulloch did invent the chainsaw, but in fact, his first chainsaw was released in 1948 – long after other models had been in commercial use.

There’s no doubt the McCulloch chainsaw company was innovative and played an important part in the development of the chainsaw, but they didn’t invent it.

When was the gas-powered chainsaw invented?

Emil Lerp, the founder of Dolmar chainsaws, is said to have invented the first gas chainsaw in 1927.

A couple of years later, Andreas Stihl and his team also produced a gas chainsaw in Germany in 1929.

This was two years after the first electric chainsaw had been invented.

What is the oldest chainsaw brand?

Stihl chainsaws are the oldest chainsaw brand in the world, dating back to 1926.

Husqvarna’s history is also interesting, as the business dates back to 1689. However, they didn’t release their first chainsaw until 1959.

What did the first chainsaw look like?

You can see images of the first chainsaw ever invented above.

It looked like a modern-day manual egg beater – just with a chain instead of a whisk. 

The earliest medical chainsaws did not look anything like modern homeowner chainsaws.

Who invented the portable chainsaw?

The earliest chainsaws were two-man saws that required someone on the powerhead and another at the opposite end.

The first one-man electric chainsaw was invented by Dolmar chainsaws in 1935 and was called the DB 35.

This was followed by the invention of the portable one-man gas chainsaw in 1952, also by Dolmar.

Stihl also claims to have invented the first chainsaw for use by one person in 1950 – check out all the Stihl chainsaw years made for more info.

The Stihl BL Chainsaw was released for sale in 1952, so it must have been ‘invented’ before that date.

When did they stop using chainsaws for childbirth?

Medical chainsaws were used for much of the 19th century.

They were used not only as an aid in childbirth but foremostly for limb amputation. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the chainsaw was developed for tree work.

Did the use of chainsaws in childbirth result in deaths?

While I am unable to find confirmed reports of this, we can assume chainsaw childbirth death was likely.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the mortality rate for both mother and child was considerably higher than it is today, though they were an improvement on the 16th and 17th centuries when the death rate was as high as 1.5%.

During these years, infection was a common ailment leading to death, as was blood loss. The use of a chainsaw in childbirth likely contributed to higher rates of these occurrences.

What was the original chainsaw called?

One of the original names for a chainsaw designed for use in the medical field was osteotome.

This particular saw was developed by Bernhard Heine for cutting bone, which is from where it gets its name.

In Latin, osteon (or Greek, osto) means bone, and the suffix -tomia means cut: hence, osteotome!

What Was The Original Use Of A Chainsaw?

What were chainsaws invented for?


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 early chainsaw history (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 Stihl 090 Chainsaw or discover where Husqvarna chainsaws are made.


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37 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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!

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

  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.

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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.

  8. Without the invention of this medical chainsaw, I wonder how long it would have taken to invent the chainsaw for trees and wood? I imagine about the same time anyway.

  9. Fascinating – I would not have guessed the chainsaw was invented for medical reasons. I imagined it came from something construction related.

    • Likewise. I just saw a meme that said look up why chainsaws were invented and I guess this explains why that’s a thing. Invented for construction isn’t much of a story but invented for childbirth certainly is!

    • No, I don’t think so. I’ve also spotted an article suggesting this, but Robert McCulloch didn’t “invent” his first chainsaw until 1943 (as stated on the McCulloch website here). I believe the company did play a big role in the development of the chainsaw but they didn’t invent it. As an aside, I bought a 50cc McCulloch chainsaw a couple of years ago and the starter cord totally broke on the second use!

  10. Would a woman have invented such a thing for childbirth? I don’t think so – of course it had to be a couple of men.

  11. Interesting. I assumed the chainsaw was just developed for cutting wood but I guess most of the tools and equipment we use today were designed and came into being in round-about ways.


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