In 1777, Samuel Miller patented the first circular saw. However, the wind-powered saw did not have enough power to be of practical use.
In 1813, Tabitha Babbit, a Shaker, invented the circular.
Her insight was that sawing back and forth wasted half the motion of a saw. In response, she created a circular saw. To power the circular saw, she attached a blade to a water wheel. Today’s circular saws are typically smaller, and powered by electricity, but not altogether different.
Due to her Shaker religion, she did not believe in patents, believing her innovations to be for the good of everybody.
Men far outnumber women as noted innovators, especially during this timeframe. Babbit’s background as a Shaker, a religious community that often put women in leadership, likely contributed to her idea being adopted.
Shakers are a group that split off from Quakers to form a similar religion. During worship, they do a dance, the Shaker Dance.
Among other things, Shakers believed that sex was the original sin and did away with it. To prevent temptation, men and women lived separately. Marriage and sex were forbidden. Besides leadership roles, which typically went to women, jobs were assigned based on traditional sex roles. This makes it all the more amazing that Babbit would watch men sawing wood and notice the wasted energy or a straight-edge blade.
Predictably, the prohibition on sex and marriage became a long-term problem. No sex meant no offspring. Since children typically take their parent’s religion, there are very few Shakers today. As of 2019, there are only two living Shakers left in the world.
Babbit didn’t stop inventing with the saw. She also created an improvement on the spinning wheel, an improved method to manufacture wooden teeth, and — along with others — a type of nail called a “cut nail.”