History is replete with famous inventors. Usually, they are known for their most successful inventions—Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone, Johannes Gutenberg for the printing press, and so on. Not so, however, for Robert P. McCulloch, inventor of the handheld chainsaw. An engineer by training, McCulloch dabbled in a wide range of industries throughout his life, from property development to aircraft manufacturing. But he is not remembered for any of these things. Instead, he is remembered for making one of the most audacious purchases in American history.

McCulloch went into business in his mid-twenties after inheriting the fortune of his grandfather, John I. Beggs (an early adopter of Thomas Edison’s electrical inventions and a streetcar magnate).1 McCulloch could have retired young, but he decided instead to put his newfound fortune to productive use. He started the McCulloch Engineering Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, building engines for racing cars. He sold that business a few years later and started McCulloch Aviation in California, which built engines for unmanned military aircraft known as target drones. It also produced the McCulloch MC-4, an early tandem-rotor helicopter. Keen to keep his businesses growing, McCulloch broadened the scope of the company, renaming it McCulloch Motors Corporation, and branching into building small gasoline engines for a variety of household and industrial uses.

It was through this business that McCulloch developed the handheld chainsaw. He identified an unserved market for a single-operator mechanical saw for felling trees and set himself the task of designing an engine lightweight enough to power such a saw. Although McCulloch Motors was unsuccessful in competing against established manufacturers of other small-engine devices such as lawnmowers, the chainsaw business was a massive success, and McCulloch Chainsaws remains a respected brand to this day.

But gasoline engines were just one of McCulloch’s many interests, and he was keen to develop other technologies. . . .

Best known for buying and relocating London Bridge, Robert P. McCulloch worked constantly to grow his wealth and create new things, even when others couldn’t see the potential in his ideas or dismissed them as impossible.
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1. Kimble D. McCutcheon, “McCulloch Aircraft Engines,” Aircraft Engine Historical Society, December 21, 2014, http://www.enginehistory.org/members/McCulloch.php.

2. Joel S. Newman, “Do IRC Sections 174 and 41 Really Matter? R&D Tax Credits, Then and Now,” Emerging Issues, no. 6018, 2011.

3. “California Flying: Where Is London Bridge?” Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, January 5, 2007, https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2007/january/pilot/california-flying.

4. Diane Holloway Cheney, Arizona’s Unique and Historic Hotels (Columbus, OH: Gatekeeper Press, 2022).

5. “The American Who Bought London Bridge,” BBC News, September 25, 2018.

6. Frederic B. Wildfang, Lake Havasu City (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005), 108.

7. Sources disagree on whether Wood or McCulloch learned of the sale first. Some indicate that Wood learned of the sale during a visit to New York City, whereas others state that McCulloch found out while visiting London.

8. Wildfang, Lake Havasu City, 107.

9. “The American Who Bought London Bridge,” BBC News.

10. “Community Profile for Lake Havasu City,” Arizona Commerce Authority, https://www.azcommerce.com/a/profiles/ViewProfile/78/Lake+Havasu+City.

11. “About Fountain Hills,” Town of Fountain Hills, https://www.fountainhillsaz.gov/380/About-Fountain-Hills.

12. John W. Olcott, “Once More, With Feeling,” Flying, December 1972.

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