Chainsaws Were Invented for a *Disturbing* Reason

Malinda Fusco

Source: Wikipedia Commons

It’s no secret that we’ve come a long way with modern medicine, but did you know that chainsaws were originally invented for assisting with childbirth? If you’re clenching your legs together, just know that so am I. The history of the chainsaw has developed rapidly starting in the 1700s. Let’s take a closer look at what sparked this invention.

The Childbirth Problem

Before C-sections women had a tough time pushing out large babies. C-sections, or Cesarean sections, is the surgical removal of the baby from the uterus.

According to Mayo Clinic, this is generally required if problems with the baby passing through the birth canal are predicted or if issues arise in the late stages of pregnancy, such as delayed labor or a distressed baby.

However, in the 1700s, they didn’t perform C-sections yet. Babies getting stuck in the birth canal was a problem that could result in death for the baby and/or mother.

Their solution? A symphysiotomy.

Symphysiotomies are no longer used for childbirth and for good reason. They were a messy procedure that often caused lasting damage to the mother. This damage was both physical and mental, as the procedures could be difficult to recover from and were often done without anesthesia.

During a symphysiotomy, cartilage is taken out of the pelvis and it is manually widened. Fred the Oyster, CC BY-SA 4.0,

On the above image, the black area with the number five is where they would remove the cartilage. After the removal, they would widen the pelvis to make room for the baby.

Obviously, this was difficult to do with the 1700’s equivalent of a surgical blade.

The Solution

In the 1780s, two doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray came up with a solution for the grueling, long process of a symphysiotomy.

They invented the chainsaw.

You may be thinking of the type of chainsaw that lumberjacks or horror villains use. Well, the first chainsaws weren’t as large, rest assured.

The first chainsaw was a lot smaller. It was called an osteotome. The word comes from Greek osteo (bone) and tome (cut), which was rather fitting.

Here’s what the first models looked like: Sabine Salfer — private photo taken at Orthopädische Universitätsklinik Frankfurt (M), Public Domain,

The serrated blade made cutting the pelvic bone faster, easier, and more precise. This device was commonly used throughout the 19th century to assist in childbirth and in other procedures that required cutting through bone.

However, as time went on and medical practices (thankfully) advanced, hygiene and anesthesia became more of a focus.

Once doctors were able to safely administer anesthesia and the C-section became safer, the brutal practice of symphysiotomy faded out.

If It Works on Bone…

Even though chainsaws faded out of the medical practice, many people quickly realized that if it can cut through bone, it can cut through other hard materials, like wood.

In 1905, Samuel Bens claimed the first patent for an electric chainsaw, with a plan to chop down giant redwood trees for construction.

After Bens patented the electric chainsaw, further developments exploded across the United States and the world. Soon enough, equivalents of the modern chainsaws we typically think of were created.

Lesson Learned

Often times, inventions lead to other discoveries and further enhancements of the inventions.

So yes, chainsaws that fell big ole trees were originally invented to saw into a woman’s pelvis. But that’s the beauty of invention, right?

Personally, I’m just happy modern medicine came up with C-sections.

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