Earl E. Bakken, inventor of pacemakers and founder of Medtronic, dies at age 94
Medtronic's big break began with a sad event. In 1957, a power outage occurred in Minneapolis, destroying food at Dr. Lillehei's hospital and resulting in the death of one of his young patients. He asked Mr. Bakken if he could find a better solution.
Mr. Bakken first experimented with feeding a pacemaker with a car battery. Judging this too bulky, he turned to what was at the time a new technology: the transistor. Mr. Bakken's invention was in a box of four inches square, which could be stuck to a patient's chest. The pacemaker transmitted electrical signals to the heart by means of wires passing through the patient's chest that could be removed without surgical intervention.
Dr. Lillehei installed a prototype on a patient less than four weeks after the start of Mr. Bakken's work – a delay that he later deemed impossible because of modern regulation.
M. Bakken's invention transformed Medtronic, but not right away. The company only sold a few dozen pacemakers in 1957 and 1958. In 1960, however, it licensed the rights to an implantable pacemaker that had been invented by researchers in Buffalo. The following year, the company finally left his garage to settle in a new headquarters located nearby. Revenues, which had barely risen to $ 500,000 in 1962, amounted to nearly $ 10 million in 1968.
Mr. Bakken was also a philanthropist specializing in science education and medicine. In 1975, he founded the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, devoted to the history of electricity and magnetism. He also helped found the Pavek Museum in nearby St. Louis Park; it houses a collection of radio, television and broadcast antiques. He has funded several medical programs at the University of Minnesota, as well as the Earl and Doris Bakken Institute on Brain and Brain at the Cleveland Clinic.
Mr. Bakken's first marriage, Connie Olson, ended in a divorce. He is survived by his wife, Doris (Marshall) Bakken, with whom he married in 1982; four children from her first marriage, Wendy Watson, Pamela Petersmeyer and Jeff and Bradley Bakken; his sister, Marjorie Andersen; two stepchildren, Ramona West and David Marshall; 11 grandchildren; three step-grandchildren; and eight beautiful great-grandchildren.
Mr. Bakken was a direct beneficiary of his invention, having had implantation of pacemakers twice. would not be sitting here. "