Chainsaws are one of the most useful tools today, and they’re used to cut through wood, carve sculptures and even amputate limbs in emergency situations. But where did this tool come from? Well, it all started with an inventor named Andreas Stihl…and his bizarre obsession with cutting women’s hair! Read on to learn more about the start of chainsaw history and the chainsaw’s role in childbirth!
A brief history of the chainsaw
Once a tool used by surgeons to help with childbirth, now the chainsaw is known for cutting through huge sections of wood. Though it wasn’t designed to be a tool that helped to cut through large trees, its origin story might surprise you. Back in 1866, British obstetrician James Syme was looking for an invention that would help reduce cesarean rates. In his quest for a better way to deliver babies vaginally, he stumbled upon one idea: the chain saw. And though he didn’t invent it first (but he’s been credited as the man who applied it first), his hope was that it would provide a more natural approach than giving women chloroform or asking them to use forceps while they were in labor.
How chainsaws came to be
Today chainsaws are primarily used for cutting down trees and clearing forests, but it was actually invented for an entirely different purpose. In 1780, a French barber-surgeon named Dr. Pierre Guillaume Benoit d’Abraham Lemoine decided to improve on the crude delivery system in use at the time by inventing a machine which would help with childbirth, he called it La Machine. It was essentially two small cranks connected by a beam with sharp teeth attached to one end; all you had to do was pull on the handles and its jaws would clamp down hard enough to cut through flesh or bone. However, not many people wanted to be in need of this new invention so he set out looking for other ways that his device could be used.
A few interesting facts about chainsaws
When most people think about chainsaws, they think about scary scenes from horror movies or chop down trees for a living. But chainsaws were originally invented for a completely different purpose: to help women give birth. The first recorded use of a chainsaw was in 1827 by French obstetrician Dr. Pierre Beck, who cut the umbilical cord with one during an attempted delivery because he didn’t have scissors available. The idea behind this invention was to make things easier on midwives who were often helping with multiple births at once and couldn’t spare a hand for cutting cords.
And what became of Dr. Leist?
In the summer of 1940, Dr. Leist received a request from an American missionary hospital in Chongqing to come up with a way to help obstetricians perform C-sections. Remembering his work with chainsaws, he devised a blade that would slowly rotate for ten minutes without any input, making it easier for doctors to work within what was essentially a big hole. Needless to say, this invention was successful and changed the course of medicine forever. After World War II ended and China became Communist-controlled territory, Dr. Leist left China in 1946 along with his wife and daughter, living out his days in Zurich where he continued his innovations and teaching career until he died at the age of 91 on July 3rd 1985.
It’s often told that chainsaws were originally invented for use in the woods. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, they were invented by Wilhelm Von Fellenberg and saw their first usage at a maternity ward in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada in 1928. What may have looked like an experiment gone wrong actually proved to be remarkably useful for doctors as it reduced infant mortality rates by six times–drastically lowering them from 12% to 2%. Just a year later, Fellenberg and his partner Wilbert Riley relocated to Toledo, Ohio where they filed for a patent on their device. By 1934, nine years after its inception, these two had sold over 1 million chainsaws worldwide–making them a household name.