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The procedure was known as symphysiotomy, and is defined as, ‘an outdated surgical procedure in which the cartilage of the pubic symphysis is divided to widen the pelvis allowing childbirth when there is a mechanical problem.’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