“What Are You Doing With Your Extra Life?”
- An invitation from Earl Bakken, co-founder, Medtronic, Inc.

Inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, patient, dreamer. Throughout his life, Earl Bakken has used his talents to help others.

He may be best known for developing the first external, battery-powered, transistorized, wearable pacemaker, an invention that has saved millions of lives and shaped the modern medical device industry.

He co-founded Medtronic, which today is the world’s leading medical device company. Every three seconds, a Medtronic product or therapy helps someone, somewhere in the world.

Earl also benefits from medical technology. He openly acknowledges that his pacemaker, insulin pump and heart stents have given him 10+ years of “extra life,” time he has put to good use, with heavy community involvement in both Minnesota and Hawaii.

Earl knows the gift of extra life is powerful. And while each person chooses how to use their extra time, it is his enduring hope they consider how to give back… in big or small ways.

That’s the Bakken Invitation.

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.

Bakken retired from Medtronic in 1989 and moved to Hawaii, but still returns to the company several times a year to meet new employees and explain the Medtronic Mission to them in person.

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.


The Bakken, previously known as The Bakken: A Library and Museum of Electricity in Life and known in the past as the Medtronic Museum of Electricity in Life, located on the shores of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, Minnesota in theUnited States, is the world’s only library and museum devoted to medical electricity. Focused on scholars and on young people, The Bakken educates visitors about the history of electricity and electromagnetism from 1200 A. D. to the present.

1. Have a bias for action.
2. Use your intuition.
3. Think out of the box.
4. Don’t over analyze.
5. Don’t hesitate while looking for the perfect result.
6. Do it! Correct your aim later.