Guillotine, a machine for beheading persons condemned to death. The device was introduced during the French Revolution at the suggestion of Dr. Joseph Guillotin. The machine consists of a heavy base, two upright posts joined by a crosspiece at the top, and a heavy, weighted knife that moves up and down in grooves of the posts. The knife is raised to the top of the posts; the victim is bound at the base, face downward, with neck directly beneath the knife; and the knife, released, falls by its own weight.
Machines similar to the guillotine had been used for centuries. The guillotine was introduced in 1792 and was set up on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Here nearly 4,000 persons met death. Dr. Guillotin narrowly escaped this fate. The guillotine continued to be used in France until capital punishment was abolished in 1981.