Inventor, philanthropist Earl Bakken dead at 94


Earl Bakken of Kiholo Bay, a philanthropist and pioneer of biomedical engineering who founded Meditronic and devised the first battery-operated external pacemaker, died Sunday on the Big Island. He was 94.

In 1949, Bakken, who was born in Minneapolis, Minn., co-founded Medtronic with Palmer Hermundslie in a small garage in northeast Minneapolis. The company started as a repair service for medical electronic equipment at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.


On Oct. 31, 1957, a power outage in the Twin Cities caused the death of a child who was dependent on an AC operated pacemaker and Bakken was asked to devise a battery operated pacemaker to prevent further loss of life.

Four weeks later, the prototype was in use for the world’s first battery-operated, transistorized, external, wearable pacemaker.

Medtronic, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, is the global leader in medical electronic technology, and as of 2017, employed 84,000 people in 160 countries, with annual revenues of more than $29.7 billion.


Bakken also was founder of North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea, which opened in 1996.

See Tuesday’s Tribune-Herald for a complete obituary.

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