It’s True: The Chainsaw Was Invented to Assist With Childbirth
This story of the chainsaw’s origin went viral
It sounds like something that you would find in a horror novel more than the real world, but a recent viral meme has sent the internet into spasms of disbelief with its claim that chainsaws were originally invented to assist with childbirth. Even more astonishing is that this meme turns out to be the truth.
One must remember that advancements in the medical field took a long time to arrive, and that medicinal practices as recently as 200 years ago were still quite crude and based on questionable science or even superstition. These days, we take certain concepts for granted, such as the C-section, or the caesarean. Before advancements were made in anesthesia and suturing, the caesarean section was generally performed only to save the child. Given this, doctors would try to find alternative methods to allow mothers to be able to give birth naturally.
In situations requiring it, such as a breech baby, or an obstructed baby, doctors would try to surgically widen the birth canal. Before the “chainsaw” was invented, the doctors would use surgical knives and scalpels to cut through the ligaments and cartilage of the pelvic joint. This procedure is called a symphysiotomy. Sometimes, they would actually have to cut the pelvic bone itself in half, and this is called a pubiotomy. You can imagine how painful this would be for a mother in the middle of a childbirth, but it was even worse because they had no real methods of anesthesia.
Then, in the 1780's, two doctors invented the tool that would help speed up the process and make it easier to achieve success. Doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray from Scotland, invented the hand-cranked device, and later an orthopedist named Bernhard Heine improved upon it and named it the osteotome.
The use of the osteotome was popularized for helping with childbirth deliveries up through the turn of the century. It also became popular to use this device for other surgical procedures, such as amputation. Thankfully, the childbirth applications of this tool, and even the tool itself, have been mostly phased out of medical practice, as medical science has continued to advance at a rapid pace. But even though the tools and sciences themselves have advanced, while researching this I was shocked to learn that the practices of symphysiotomy and pubiotomy in regard to childbirth were still quite popular in countries such as Ireland, up through as recently as the 1980’s.
While thankfully most modern medical professionals consider these tools and practices to be archaic, the tool that we know as the present-day chainsaw was based upon the original concept of Heine’s osteotome and was invented and patented in 1905 by a logger named Samuel J. Bens. And from there it was tweaked and refined into the more current models that we know today.
So, the next time you are sitting down to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, remember that the way those serrated blades cut so easily through bones is based on reality, because chainsaws were cutting through bones before they were ever considered for cutting through trees.