(p. A1) In the mid-1950s, heart pacemakers were bulky devices that had to be wheeled around on carts and plugged into a wall socket. A heart surgeon in Minneapolis asked Earl Bakken if he could make something better. After consulting a back issue of Popular Electronics, Mr. Bakken within a few weeks fashioned a wearable pacemaker powered by a battery.
. . .
Mr. Bakken, who died Oct. 21  at the age of 94, had no inkling he was creating anything more than a local repair shop when he and a brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie, set up Medtronic. “We didn’t analyze or study the market,” he wrote in “One Man’s Full Life,” a 1999 memoir. “We just did it.”
Medtronic’s inventions eventually sustained him physically as well as financially. “I’m on my second pacemaker, and I’m on about my third or fourth insulin pump,” he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2010. “So I’m glad I invented the company, or I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
. . .
Noting his talents, university medical personnel sometimes asked Mr. Bakken to fix their equipment. He noticed that few hospitals had technical staffs to maintain their electrical gear. A chat with his brother-in-law, Mr. Hermundslie, prompted them to fill that niche by setting up a repair shop inside a garage.
. . .
In 1957, a power outage was blamed for the death of a baby dependent on a plug-in pacemaker. A University of Minnesota heart surgeon, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, asked for alternative technology. Mr. Bakken found a design for an electronic metronome in Popular Electronics and used that as the model for a circuit. He housed the circuitry in a metal box small enough to be taped to a patient’s chest. After a successful test on a dog, Dr. Lillehei began using the device. Articles he wrote about it created a stir, and soon Medtronic was receiving orders from around the world.
For the full obituary, see:
James R. Hagerty. “Founder Started Medtronic as a Local Repair Shop.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2018): A6.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Oct. 26, 2018, and has the title “Medtronic Founder Earl Bakken Turned a Tiny Repair Shop Into a Giant of Medical Technology.”)
The autobiography mentioned above, is:
Bakken, Earl E. One Man’s Full Life. Fridley, MN: Medtronic, Inc., 1999.