WTF Fun Fact 13694 – History of the Chainsaw

The history of the chainsaw, a tool linked with forestry and tree felling, has its roots in surgical practice. Specifically, it aided in childbirth.

Medical Origins of the Chainsaw

The initial conception of the chainsaw was far removed from the lumber yards. Invented by Scottish doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray, it was designed to address a specific challenge in childbirth. According to the 1785 edition of “Principles Of Midwifery, Or Puerperal Medicine,” this crude yet innovative device was intended for use in symphysiotomy procedures. They widen the pubic cartilage and remove obstructive bone. The goal is to facilitate the delivery process when the baby becomes stuck in the birth canal.

This “flexible saw,” as it was described, allowed for the precise cutting away of flesh, cartilage, and bone. Despite its gruesome application, the invention was a medical breakthrough. It also offered a new solution to a life-threatening dilemma faced by mothers and babies.

The Chainsaw Through History

The chainsaw’s medical use continued into the 19th century, with the development of the osteotome by German physician Bernhard Heine in 1830. This device, further refined the concept of the chainsaw for surgical purposes. “The Lancet London” described it as comprising two plates that contained a toothed wheel operated by a handle to cut through bone and tissue.

However, the narrative of the chainsaw took a significant turn at the start of the 20th century, moving beyond the confines of the operating room to the great outdoors.

Birth of the Modern Chainsaw

The transformation of the chainsaw into a tool for woodcutting began earnestly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Patents filed in 1883 for the Chain Sawing Machine and in 1906 for the Endless Chain Saw laid the groundwork for its application in producing wooden boards and felling giant redwoods. By 1918, Canadian James Shand patented the first portable chainsaw. This marked a new era for the chainsaw’s use in forestry.

Andreas Stihl subsequently developed and patented the electric chainsaw in 1926. Then came the gas-powered model in 1929. This made the tool more accessible and efficient for logging activities. These early models were large and required two men to operate. They set the stage for post-World War II advancements that made chainsaws lighter and more user-friendly, allowing single-person operation.

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Source: “Why were chainsaws invented?” — BBC Science Focus


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