The chainsaw was invented in the 18th century by two Scottish doctors – John Aitken and James Jeffray – to saw through the pelvic bones of birthing women to help the child into the world. This was necessary if, for example, a child was too large for the birth canal or was not properly positioned for delivery. At that time, the saw was used to saw through or remove the pelvic bone (the symphysis) – called a symphysiotomy – to make more room for the baby in the birth canal.
What did the first chainsaw look like?
John Aitken and James Jeffray’s chainsaw was only roughly reminiscent of what we know today as a chainsaw. Originally developed as a bone saw, the chainsaw consisted of two handles with a chain passing between them. This chain consisted of movable, toothed links. By pulling this chain back and forth with the handles, bones could be cut.
What were the consequences of using such a chain saw during childbirth?
Since medical developments in the 18th century were not nearly as good as they are today, the use of a chainsaw and the sawing up of pelvic bones was indeed a valid emergency measure during childbirth. Because of the lack of knowledge about hygiene and sterility, a cesarean section at that time was much riskier than symphysiotomy and almost always ended in the death of the mother from bleeding to death or infection. At that time, a cesarean section had a mortality rate for the mother of almost 100%.
However, the use of the chainsaw also meant months of pain for the mother and carried a high risk of infection. The procedure was also highly risky for the child, who could be injured.
The alternative, however, was to do nothing, which in the case of a stagnant birth would almost certainly result in death for both mother and child.
How did today’s rotating-chain chainsaw come to be?
Aitkins and Jeffray’s first chainsaw was a chain that could be moved back and forth using two handles. So, except for the toothed chain links, there was little resemblance to today’s chainsaw with a rotating blade and motor. But this modern version of the chainsaw is also an invention of medicine.
In 1830, instrument maker and orthopedist Bernhard Heine presented his latest invention: the osteotome. The term comes from ancient Greek. „Osteo“ means bone and „Tomia“ means cut.
At the time, Bernhard Heine had developed a bone saw for opening skulls, which he hoped would produce a much more precise cut than was possible at the time. At that time, skull openings were made with a hammer and chisel or a drill. With this osteotome, Bernhard Heine had developed the basic principle that still underlies modern chainsaws with motors.
How long has today’s chainsaw existed?
Although the principle for the rotating chainsaw had already been born in 1830, it took until the middle of the 19th century for the first electric chainsaw to appear on the market. Prior to that, there had been attempts at steam-powered or mechanical chainsaws with rotating saw blades, but they had not caught on due to awkwardness or susceptibility to failure. A year after the electric chainsaw, the gasoline-powered chainsaw also came on the market. These saws initially had to be operated by two people because they were very heavy.