The 13th Floor

The Chainsaw was Invented to Help in Childbirth. Seriously.

In my role here at, I do an insane amount of research, often spending multiple hours each day studying horror films, weird history, and morbid curiosities.  A few weeks back, I was researching the origins of the chainsaw while working on a piece about early slasher films. I became curious as to when the first consumer-grade chainsaw was placed on the market, specifically wondering if the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE movie happened to coincide with a boom in consumer-grade chainsaws or possibly created one. But on the way to all that knowledge, I happened upon one of the most disturbing factoids ever- the chainsaw was actually invented for use in childbirth! Not trees or shrubs or hapless victims…childbirth.

I know! That sounds like some bat-shit crazy cross of Tobe Hooper and David Croneneberg films (thus likely creating the most horrific movie ever), but it is entirely true. Around 1780, two doctors were trying to create a device to help with a serious surgical problem- symphysiotomy. This is a procedure where doctors remove bone and cartilage from the birth canal to widen it during problematic childbirths. At the time, this method was preferred over caesarians because butchering the pelvic bone was viewed as less dangerous than sawing Mom’s mid-section (most doctors thankfully disagree today, unless in extreme circumstances).

I’m just going to gather that all the female readers are now shuddering, but wait…there’s much more. We aren’t even to the chainsaw part yet! At the time, this bone chiseling procedure was done by hand with a small saw and knife, which in the mad throws of childbirth proved to be messy, very slow, and agonizing for the mother. I’ll also take this moment to mention that anesthetics had just recently been invented at this time and were not widely used yet.  So yeah- childbirth during this time was a grueling, ungodly, horrible experience that makes me reconsider my complaints about the uncomfortable bed and tasteless hospital food I “suffered” through while delivering my two kids.

To try to make the pelvis sawing slightly less daunting and excruciating during this procedure, two Scottish doctors invented a snazzy new hand crank device that allowed them to slice through mama’s bone and tissue with a bit more ease. And it also worked for other surgeries, dissections, or just about whatever your bone-carving needs may be.

Now before you picture Leatherface wielding a 20-inch Craftsman gas-powered 2-cycle in the delivery room while telling the mother to “just hold still”, let’s realize that the child-birthing chainsaws were smaller. The design looked a great deal like a regular kitchen knife wrapped in a small bicycle chain with a hand crank. Still absolutely terrifying when thought of in regards to fully conscious surgeries or the vagina, but I guess it was an improvement over letting someone have a go at your pelvis with a dull hacksaw.

Original surgical chainsaw

Eventually someone noticed that if this handy dandy mom-carving baby-birthing device could saw through bone, it could saw through trees, likely with a lot less blood and screaming. Gradually, larger versions of the hand-crank chainsaw were created, and by the early 1900s, someone used it to cut down a giant redwood tree, previously a formidable task.

Before we knew it, chainsaws evolved into being the weapon of choice for tree enthusiasts and Texas slashers alike. But it all began with childbirth.