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

Chainsaws can be used for more than just felling trees and bushes; they can also be used for ice carving. However, the true inspiration behind the chainsaw's creation is likely to surprise you.

In a word, it's unsettling and it dates back to the 1800s. True, chainsaws weren't initially developed by ingenious gardeners, but rather by surgeons.

Why Were Chainsaws Invented

Orthopedic University Clinic of Frankfurt, Sabine Salfer You may be surprised to learn the real story behind chainsaws. 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.

A Brief History of the Chainsaw and Its Impact on Society

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 a significant improvement from the past when this statistic was much higher and an alarming number of mothers and their newborns died.

In the Roman era, it was so uncommon for a mother to die before giving birth that a law was enacted mandating that doctors perform a dangerous procedure called a "Cesarean" on dead or dying mothers in an effort to save the baby.

Historical Caesarian Section

Anonymous/The British Library Cesarean section as depicted by doctors in a 15th century engraving

Cesarean sections are so named because doctors traditionally performed them on dying mothers in order to save their babies. Historically, cesarean sections were only performed as a last resort because it was highly improbable that doctors could save the lives of both mother and child.

However, there were whispers that a cesarean section could prevent death for both mothers and babies. Many doubted the story that a Swiss veterinarian performed a C-section on his wife and child to save them in 1500.

Then, in the nineteenth century, developments in medicine and hygiene raised the prospect of a cesarean delivering a healthy baby and mom. Abdominal surgery is notoriously unpleasant and dangerous even in modern times, but it was even worse before the advent of anesthetics and antibiotics.

The fact that the procedure had to be completed by tearing into the woman's uterus by hand or using scissors didn't help, either; neither method was usually quick enough to spare the mother pain or save the life of the baby.

Cesarean Example

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

True, in the same year that the medical chainsaw was developed, Dr. This horrific account of a botched cesarean section was published by John Richmond.

The patient that Richmond had been trying to deliver for hours was on her deathbed. At one o'clock that night, "feeling a deep and solemn sense of my responsibility," Richmond said, "I commenced the cesarean section with only a case of common pocket instruments."

He used scissors to slash the woman. But Richmond was still unable to take the kid away. Richmond said, "It was unusually large, and the mother was very fat; and, having no assistance, I found this part of my operation more difficult than I had anticipated." ”

Richmond, over the distraught mother's protests, said, "a childless mother was better than a motherless child." He pronounced the infant dead and dissected it. The woman survived after a few weeks of recovery.

The horrific events in Richmond, Virginia, shed light on the original inspiration for the chainsaw: a desire for a less invasive delivery method than the C-section.

The Original Instruments Used to Avoid Caesarean Sections

James Jeffray

Photo by John Graham Gilbert / Public Domain Dr The chainsaw was invented by James Jeffray. Jeffray allegedly got in trouble because he bought dead people to dissect.

Scots physicians John Aitken and James Jeffray developed a technique around 1780 that they hoped would be less risky than C-sections. To facilitate vaginal delivery, doctors would make incisions in the mother's pelvis rather than her abdomen.

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

However, a sharp knife was often insufficient for a painless and rapid operation. So, Aitken and Jeffray conceived of a rotating blade that could cut through bone and cartilage, and the first chainsaw was born.

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 dilatation of the birth canal in a laboring mother.

Of course, Aitken and Jeffray weren't the only doctors to use chainsaws in novel ways during that time.

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

In contrast to his uncle, who specialized in orthopedics' technical aspects, Heine went to medical school. Heine, after completing his surgical training, devoted his career to orthopedics. Suddenly, he realized he could combine his scientific background with his medical education.

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.

A Brief History of Chainsaws

Invention Of Chainsaw

Pictures from Wikimedia Commons An illustration of the use of the chain osteotome by medical professionals in bone surgery.

Johann Heine gave serious thought to the medical uses of his invention, which led to its widespread adoption for procedures of varying complexity.

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

Before the chain osteotome, surgeons had to resort to using a hammer and chisel to amputate a limb. They could also use a saw that required jerky motions to perform the amputation. This procedure was greatly facilitated by the medical chainsaw, which also led to better outcomes.

Therefore, the osteotome gained a great deal of notoriety. Heine was given a prestigious French award and invited to Russia to showcase the instrument. French and American factories started turning out mass quantities of the surgical instrument.

Endless Chainsaw Patent

Samuel J Bens/U S Institution granting patents Samuel J. Johnson's patent application S. Bens in the year 1905 Bens hypothesized that a "endless chainsaw" with a continuous loop of chain would be useful for felling redwoods.

The medical chainsaw was much more effective than a hammer and chisel when it came to amputations. Contrary to popular belief, the chainsaw is not the most effective method of delivering a baby. However, the number of maternal deaths decreased as a result of the widespread use of sterile surgical procedures, anesthesia, and other forms of modern obstetric care.

Not long after that, in 1905, a man named Samuel J. Bens discovered that the medical chainsaw was more effective at slicing through redwoods than it was at chopping through bones. A patent for the first truly modern chainsaw was submitted to him by him.

Thankfully, the time when women relied on chainsaws to help them get through labor is behind us.

Read about James Barry, the famous 19th-century physician who was secretly born a woman, after this examination of the history of the chainsaw and its initial application. Next, read up on these interesting discoveries that happened by accident.

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