FRIDLEY, Minn. (WCCO) — What began in a small garage along a northeast Minneapolis block changed medicine forever.
“He was a pioneer and visionary in a lot of ways,” said Michael Sanders, the executive director of the Bakken Museum.
Earl Bakken was just a kid when he saw the original Frankenstein movie. His fascination with electricity and the human body set the stage for his life’s devotion.
“He snuck into the Heights Theatre in Columbia Heights and was inspired by the concept of electricity within the human body being fundamental to life,” Sanders said.
At the tender age of 25, Bakken co-founded Medtronic. The company mostly repaired medical equipment, but Bakken spent time tinkering with radios and television sets to help make ends meet.
In the vault of his Minneapolis Bakken Museum sits a microwave-sized plug-in pacemaker. But in 1957, the problem was what could happen if a hospital lost electricity. The patient was left without cardiac assistance because the unit had to be plugged in.
“It was his work with Dr. Walt Lillehei of the University of Minnesota that really put him on the map,” explains Sanders.
Bakken created the world’s first, battery-powered cardiac pacemaker. Through the years, Medtronic’s devices got smaller, implantable and today are barely the size of a pill.
“At his core, Earl was an engineer,” said Rob Clark, Medtronic’s chief communications officer. “He believed in the values of technology and what it could do for humans.”
Medtronic is today the world’s largest medical device firm. Its 86,000 employees design and manufacture products at the core of the company’s mission — to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life.
“So that’s the rallying mission for people,” Clark said. “That notion of what technology can do to deliver on that has guided us for the 60 plus years we’ve been alive.”
For 40 of those years, Earl Bakken was at the company’s helm, building his company into a world leader.
At Medtronic’s Fridley U.S. headquarters, lowered flags are a sign of sadness.
But Clark says there is also a great sense of celebration of Bakken’s legacy. It’s a tribute you clearly see in a simple yellow rose laid at Bakken’s bust in the museum preserving his genius.