Why Guillotine Operators Were Once Considered Celebrities

According to Lessons from History, the guillotine was used in France for 189 years. Although a similar machine had existed in medieval times, the French guillotine was created in 1789 by Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Guillotin was opposed to capital punishment. Per History Collection, executions at the time were gruesome and excruciating. It sometimes took several attempts to behead someone with a sword.

He figured that if the practice were to continue, it should at least be humane and painless, thus the decapitation device that bares his name. In April 1792, the guillotine claimed its first victim (via History). Guillotin was horrified that his invention was named after him, but it was too late; the fascination had begun.

The guillotine quickly became the preferred method of execution during the French Revolution. It also became a public event for spectators. A date would be issued and people would gather at the meeting point to view the bloody end of its victims. Souvenirs were sold, and café and restaurants were established nearby. Everyone, including children, attended public executions, and this was just the beginning.

As the guillotine's fame grew, so did the executioner's

During the French Revolution, executioners became the star of the show. According to History, their technique and how quickly they could do a beheading was closely judged and the talk of the town. Furthermore, it was a role that was kept in the family. The Sansons, for example, served as guillotine operators from 1792 to 1847. They famously beheaded King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Deiblers took over.

Both of these names were celebrated and often chanted in the streets. Morbidly, the executioners became fashion icons of sorts. What they wore at the scaffold inspired fashion trends and helped maintain their social position. In addition, it's said that they inspired tattoos that stated things like "my head goes to Diebler." Like all trends, though, executioners and the guillotine eventually fell out of style.

Per ThoughtCo, the last execution by guillotine in France happened 44 years ago on September 10, 1977. However, the last public execution by guillotine was in 1939 (via Rare Historical Photos). The outlandish behavior of the spectators (which included a whistling and cheering crowd) led to the ban of any future public executions. At the peak of popularity during the Reign of Terror, it is said the guillotine was used to execute between 15,000 and 40,000 people.