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Why Were Chainsaws Invented?

Why Were Chainsaws Invented?-1

A doctor walks into an operating room with a chainsaw...

While it may sound like a clip from a horror movie or the beginning of a dark joke, it used to happen all the time. Why, you ask? Join us as we explore the surprising history of the chainsaw and how it evolved into the logging tool we know today.

The First Chainsaw: A Medical Marvel

The first chainsaw was invented by Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray, in the late 1780s. This chainsaw was flexible and designed to aid in the removal of obstructive or diseased bone and accelerate a surgical procedure known as symphysiotomy, which involved widening the pubic cartilage to create more space to deliver a baby.


By 1830, the chainsaw, or osteotome as it came to be known, played a crucial role in childbirth. In cases where the baby-faced complications in the birth canal, the flexible saw was utilized to cut away flesh, cartilage, and bone from the mother. It also became a popular tool for amputations during the Civil War as it caused less damage to the surrounding tissue than the bone saws available during that time.

While it may sound horrifying by today's standards, the osteotome represented a significant medical breakthrough and was used in surgeries throughout the 1800s, particularly when paired with anesthesia.


Fortunately, advancements in medical science have since rendered symphysiotomy — and the osteotome — obsolete. But it's worth noting that the chainsaw was once an unexpected hero in delivery rooms and in battlefield hospitals, and helped pave the way for safer alternatives like the cesarean section.

Modern Chainsaws

It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that we saw the chainsaw evolve into the powerhouse of a logging tool we recognize today.


Patents for the Chain Sawing Machine (1883) and the Endless Chain Saw (1906) marked early attempts at utilizing chainsaws for wood production, but it was Canadian inventor James Shand who created the first portable chainsaw in 1918.

The next most notable advancements were made a few years later by Andreas Stihl, who patented the first electric chainsaw in 1926 and a gasoline powered chainsaw shortly after in 1929.


These early chainsaws may have been portable, but they were still sizable and required two men to operate. It wasn't until after the Second World War that advancements in engine design and materials like aluminum made chainsaws compact and efficient enough for single-person operation.

From navigating the challenges of childbirth to shaping the landscape of the forestry industry, the chainsaw's story is a testament to the unexpected paths inventions can take and how necessity and creativity can intertwine in unexpected ways to shape our future.

References: Why were chainsaws invented | Why were chainsaws invented? It wasn't for cutting down trees. Here's what to know

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