First developed to aid in childbirth, chainsaws required gruesome surgical procedures.

Chainsaws are useful for more than just felling trees and bushes; they can also be used to carve ice. Its true origin, however, may come as a surprise to you.

The answer dates back to the 1800s — and it will give you the creeps. True, doctors and surgeons, not resourceful gardeners, were responsible for the development of the chainsaw.

Why Were Chainsaws Invented

Orthopedic University Clinic of Frankfurt, Sabine Salfer You may be surprised to learn the true story behind chainsaws' inception. The chainsaw's first applications were extremely violent.

This meant that the first applications for chainsaws didn't involve cutting wood, but rather assisting with labor and delivery.

Exactly Why Chainsaws Were Developed

There have been many obstacles throughout human history related to giving birth. The global rate of maternal deaths is 211 per 100,000 live births, which is lower than in the past but still shockingly high.

It was such a problem for Roman doctors to deal with a mother dying before childbirth that they were required by law to perform the risky "Cesarean" operation on mothers who were already dead or dying.

Historical Caesarian Section

British Library/Anonymous Cesarean section as depicted by doctors in a 15th-century medical illustration

Cesarean section refers to the surgical removal of a live baby from a mother who is in imminent danger of death. The name comes from the legend that Emperor Caesar legislated the practice. Historically, cesarean sections were only performed as a last resort, with the baby's life taken into greater consideration than the mother's.

The lives of both mother and child might be saved, according to rumors. A Swiss veterinarian allegedly performed a C-section on his wife and child to save their lives in the year 1500, though this story was met with skepticism at the time.

Then in the nineteenth century, developments in medicine and hygiene raised the prospect of saving mom and baby during a cesarean. However, abdominal surgery was extremely painful and risky prior to the development of anesthetics and antibiotics.

The fact that the surgery had to be completed by tearing into the woman's uterus by hand or using scissors didn't help, either; these methods weren't always fast enough to spare the mother pain or save the life of the baby.

Cesarean Example

J P Collection Maygrier/Wellcome Library Incision sites for a cesarean section, as depicted in a medical text from 1822.

In fact, Dr. Seuss created the first medical chainsaw the same year. This horrific account of a botched cesarean section was published by John Richmond.

After several long hours of labor, Richmond's patient was on her deathbed. About one o'clock that night, "feeling a deep and solemn sense of my responsibility," Richmond said, "with only a case of common pocket instruments, I commenced the cesarean section."

He used a pair of scissors to sever her from the woman. But Richmond was still unable to take the kid away. With no help, Richmond said, "I found this part of my operation more difficult than I had anticipated because it was unusually large and the mother was very fat." ”

Richmond, over the distressed mother's cries, said, "a childless mother was better than a motherless child." He then dismantled the infant after determining it was dead. The woman survived after a few weeks of recovery.

The horrific events in Richmond provide insight into the original motivation for the invention of chainsaws: to provide a more humane alternative to the C-section.

The Original Instruments Used to Avoid Caesarean Sections

James Jeffray

Photograph by John Graham Gilbert / Public Domain Dr The chainsaw was invented by James Jeffray. According to reports, Jeffray got in trouble for purchasing dead bodies for dissection.

In an effort to reduce the risks associated with C-sections, Scottish physicians John Aitken and James Jeffray developed a new method around 1780. They would widen the birth canal and remove the baby vaginally by making an incision in the mother's pelvis rather than her abdomen.

The term "symphysiotomy" describes the operation, which is now obsolete.

However, it was not always possible to perform this surgery safely and quickly with just a sharp knife. The first chainsaw was invented because Aitken and Jeffray envisioned a rotating blade that could cut through bone and cartilage.

The first chainsaws were about the size of a small serrated knife with a hand crank and were small enough to fit in a doctor's hand. It was also too risky for most doctors to try, despite the fact that it sped up the process of opening the birth canal for a woman who was in labor.

Aitken and Jeffray weren't the only doctors to use chainsaws in novel ways back then.

A German boy named Bernhard Heine started tinkering with medical equipment around 30 years after Aitken and Jeffray's invention. His uncle Johann Heine, for example, made artificial limbs and orthopedic devices, so Heine spent much of his childhood learning how to build these kinds of medical equipment.

Heine pursued medical school while his uncle worked on the "nuts and bolts" of orthopedics. After completing his medical training, Heine decided to focus on orthopedics. That's when he realized he could combine his scientific background with his medical education to help people.

Johann Heine introduced the chain osteotome in 1830, which was the forerunner to modern chainsaws.

Bone-cutting instruments, or osteotomes, were traditionally hand-held chisels. However, Heine improved upon his original, hand-cranked osteotome by attaching a chain to its rotating handle.

Historic Chainsaw Applications

Invention Of Chainsaw

Commons of Wikimedia Explanation of the chain osteotome's use in surgical procedures

Johann Heine gave serious thought to the surgical uses of his invention, and as a result, it has been put to many different kinds of procedures.

So that surgeons could make incisions in the skull without splintering bone or tearing soft tissue, Heine added guards to the chain's edges. It was a huge improvement on amputations and other bone-cutting surgeries of the 19th century.

Surgeons used hammers and chisels to amputate limbs before the invention of the chain osteotome. A more jarring option would be to use an amputation saw. The medical chainsaw cut down on labor and increased effectiveness.

This led to the osteotome's meteoric rise in popularity. Heine was honored with a French prize and invited to present his invention in Russia. France and New York both started mass producing the surgical instrument.

Endless Chainsaw Patent

Samuel J Bens/U S Bureau of Patents For his invention, Samuel J. As of 1905, Bens To help loggers fell redwood trees, Bens devised an "endless chainsaw" with a revolving chain.

The medical chainsaw was a huge improvement over traditional amputation tools like hammers and chisels. However, the chainsaw was not the best option for a centuries-old problem during childbirth. Instead, more lives were saved during childbirth thanks to sterile surgical environments, anesthesia, and improved medical care.

Also, in 1905, a man named Samuel J. Bens discovered that the medical chainsaw made quick work of redwoods as well as bones. A patent for the first truly modern chainsaw was submitted to him by him.

Thankfully, the era of using chainsaws to help women survive labor was short-lived

Next, learn about James Barry, the famous 19th-century doctor who was secretly born a woman, and why he was inspired to invent the chainsaw. Then, read up on these unexpectedly interesting innovations.

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