||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2010)|
January 10, 1924|
Columbia Heights, Minnesota
|Alma mater||University of Minnesota|
|Known for||founding Medtronic, inventing the wearable portable pacemaker, founding Bakken Museum|
Earl E. Bakken (born Hennepin County, Minnesota, January 10, 1924) is an American engineer, businessman and philanthropist of Dutch and Norwegian American ancestry. He founded Medtronic, where he developed the first external, battery-operated, transistorized, wearable artificial pacemaker in 1957.
Born in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, Bakken had a long-held fascination with electricity and electronics; a self-described "nerd", Bakken designed a rudimentary electroshock weapon in school to fend off bullies. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1948, he studied electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics at the University of Minnesota Graduate School. Post-World War II hospitals were just starting to employ electronic equipment, but did not have staff to maintain and repair them. Sensing an opportunity, Bakken and his brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie, formed Medtronic (the combination of "medical" and "electronic") in a small garage, primarily working with the University of Minnesota hospital.
In the 1950s, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei was performing life-saving surgery on children with blue baby syndrome. That surgery often left the children needing to be temporarily attached to a pacemaker. The pacemakers at the time were large devices that required their own carts and relied on wall current for power. As a result of a power blackout on October 31, 1957, one of Dr. Lillehei's young patients died. Dr. Lillehei had worked with Bakken before, and asked him the next day if he could solve the problem. Bakken found a circuit diagram for a metronome in Popular Electronics, and four weeks later, Bakken delivered a battery-powered transistorized pacemaker about the size of a few decks of cards to Dr. Lillehei. After successfully testing the hand-made device in the laboratory, Bakken returned to create a refined model for patients. However, much to Bakken's astonishment, when he came in the next day, he found the pacemaker already in use on a patient (The Food and Drug Administration did not start regulating medical devices until 1976).
Over the next several years, Bakken and Medtronic went on to work with other doctors to develop fully implantable pacemakers, but they also veered toward bankruptcy. He borrowed money kept Medtronic going, but the bankruptcy near-miss drove Bakken to develop the Medtronic Mission, which still guides the company. The mission helped the young company to stay focused on areas where it could truly help patients.
In 1996 he helped to dedicate the North Hawaii Community Hospital and has been active there ever since, working to combine Eastern and Western approaches to medicine to develop a more holistic approach to health care.
- Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Chemistry: Earl E. Bakken
- Medtronic's Patient-Focussed Mission medtronic.com
- "Ability Magazine: Earl Bakken Interview with Chet Cooper" (2009)". Retrieved 2012-04-03.
- Earl Bakken's Website
- The Bakken Museum Homepage
- Works by or about Earl Bakken in libraries (WorldCat catalog)