Witnessing an elephant give birth inspired a couple to create a new childbirth technology. Unfortunately, it was too ridiculous to use.
Everyone knows that childbirth isn’t easy. But what if pregnant patients could simply strap themselves to a table, spin at a high speed, and propel the baby out?
What could go wrong?
It sounds ridiculous, but in the 1960s a couple actually patented the Blonsky device, a machine that used centrifugal force to fling babies into the world.
The Technological Revolution Of Childbirth
For centuries, women labored during childbirth – and many died. According to Slate, before the era of modern medicine, more than one in 100 women died giving birth. And since most women had multiple children, the risk compounded with each pregnancy.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, new medical technologies promised to revolutionize childbirth.
Simple changes like handwashing helped prevent the spread of germs. And new technologies like anesthesia made childbirth less torturous.
But not all of these innovations improved childbirth. For one, the first maternity hospitals were rife with germs and reported a higher mortality rate than home births.
New methods also created new risks. The practice of deep sedation, also known as twilight sleep, left patients vulnerable. Forceps and episiotomies were overused, leaving some babies and parents with preventable injuries.
And one new technology – the Blonsky device – was so outlandish that it sounds made-up.
Who Were The Blonskys?
The idea for the Blonsky device came from a married couple: George Blonsky, a mining engineer, and Charlotte Blonsky of New York.
The Blonskys had no children of their own – perhaps limiting their experience with childbirth – but they were frequent visitors at the Bronx Zoo. And in the early 1960s, they had a memorable encounter with an elephant that would give them a new idea for human childbirth.
On that fateful day, George witnessed a pregnant elephant nearing labor.
The large mammal spun in wide, slow circles. As he watched, George hypothesized that the spinning helped the elephant deliver its 250-pound baby.
The engineer ran the numbers, calculating the anatomical physics of twirling in labor. If Blonsky was right, his insight might transform human childbirth, too.
George and Charlotte Blonsky suggested that modern women were ill-equipped to give birth.
“In the case of a woman who has a fully developed muscular system and has had ample physical exertion all through the pregnancy, as is common with all more primitive peoples, nature provides all the necessary equipment and power to have a normal and quick delivery,” they wrote in their patent application.
They argued that modern women who live with modern luxuries “often do not have the opportunity to develop the muscles needed in confinement,” and that something was needed to provide them with the force necessary for a smooth birth.
The Blonskys suggested a spinning apparatus that offered “considerable propelling force” to expel the baby from the mother’s body. According to the Blonskys, strapping pregnant people to spinning tables would “facilitate the birth of a child at less stress to the mother.”
Centrifugal Force And The Blonsky Device
The Blonsky device promised to revolutionize childbirth with the power of centrifugal force.
How did the Blonsky device work? The expectant mother would lie down on a circular table. To prevent harm, doctors would strap the woman to the device.
“The apparatus is provided with several straps to assure the safe, steady and comfortable positioning of the woman on the stretcher,” the eight-page patent application reported. These included a neck strap, body straps, and thigh straps.
Then the table would begin rotating at a high speed.
The device worked by “creating a gentle, evenly distributed, properly directed, precision-controlled force, that acts in unison with and supplements her own efforts,” so that “such centrifugal force and her efforts act in concert to overcome the action of resisting forces and facilitate the delivery of the child.”
The inventors described how the “vari-speed vertical gear motor” rotated women until their babies would (theoretically) fly out of the mother.
“During the operation,” the inventors explained, “the operator gradually speeds up the machine to the predetermined force which is expected to produce the birth of the child, and if such force does not accomplish this, he does not exceed it, unless the physician decides to go to the higher gs.”
The Blonsky device, of course, came with critical safety features. In addition to the straps holding down the woman, the spinning table featured a net meant to snatch up the newborn baby.
The device would stop immediately after the “pocket-shaped reception net made of strong, elastic material” caught the infant.
Somehow, the U.S. Patent Office granted the Blonsky device patent in 1965.
Did Anyone Use The Blonsky Device?
Thankfully, there’s no evidence that the Blonsky device was ever actually used during childbirth.
The massive device was expensive and quite complex, according to research by Trinity College Dublin. And many rightly wondered if a tiny net was the best solution to catch a newborn flung into the world for the first time.
The Blonskys certainly considered safety. Their patent application described thick fencing around the device that would prevent personnel from getting too close to the spinning labor table.
However, the patent did not address key concerns such as how to proceed if the spinning patient began to vomit or how to check the progress of labor under centrifugal force.
In their patent application, the Blonskys claimed that “the fetus needs the application of considerable propelling force to enable it to push aside the constricting vaginal walls.” Somehow, though, generations of pregnant people have given birth without a giant spinning device.
The Blonsky device is one of many outlandish tools recommended for childbirth. Next, read about the original use of chainsaws (hint: it involved childbirth), and then learn about Ignaz Semmelweis and the struggle to convince doctors to wash their hands before delivering babies.