Today, we are the world's largest medical technology company, but we come from humble beginnings. Medtronic was founded in 1949 as a medical equipment repair shop by Earl Bakken and his brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie.
Did these two men set out to change medical technology and the lives of millions of people? No. But they did have a deep moral purpose and an inner drive to use their scientific knowledge and entrepreneurial skills to help others.
That spirit – combined with our founders' personal integrity and passion – became our guiding philosophy and, ultimately, the Medtronic Mission.
Entrée Into Manufacturing and Pacemakers
At the time the company was founded, Earl was a graduate student in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. On the side, he repaired delicate lab equipment at a hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Soon, healthcare professionals were asking him to not only repair existing equipment, but design and produce new equipment, too.
In the mid-1950s, Earl Bakken became acquainted with Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, an open heart surgery pioneer at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Dr. Lillehei and other surgeons discovered that heart block occurred after corrective heart surgery in about 10% of their patients. While external pacemakers existed to help regulate heart rhythm, they were bulky, relied on external electrodes, and had to be plugged into a wall outlet, so they could fail during a power blackout.
Earl worked with Dr. Lillehei and his colleagues to develop a pacemaker that was powered by batteries and not much larger than a paperback book. It was a leap forward in the treatment of heart block and other cardiac conditions.
Dr. C. Walton Lillehei with a child who received one of the early Medtronic external pacemakers.
By 1960, Medtronic produced an implantable pacemaker, and within 2 months had orders for 50. That same year, the company reached another milestone: co-founder Earl Bakken wrote the Medtronic Mission statement. More than 40 years later, the Mission has been translated into many languages and continues to be the guiding force for our day-to-day work.
Minimally Invasive Philosophy Emerges
In the mid-1960s, Medtronic introduced its first transvenous pacing system; it used pacing leads that could be maneuvered through a vein to the heart without opening the chest or using general anesthesia.
This delivery method was the springboard for developing similar less-invasive procedures for other therapies. We now deliver many of our products through veins, including heart valves, stent grafts, and balloon angioplasty.
Applying Our Expertise Beyond Hearts
The 1960s also marked Medtronic's expansion into what would eventually become one of the most diverse medical technology companies in the world. We transferred our expertise in electrical stimulation to treat other parts of the body.
We created a gastrointestinal pacemaker, and undertook several research projects aimed at relieving pain through stimulation to the spinal cord. These were exploratory projects, but important because they formed the foundation for expanded thinking about our technologies.
The 1960s and 1970s were a period of extensive international growth for Medtronic. In the 1960s, sales outside the United States accounted for about one-third of our revenue, with the European market representing the majority. To better service the market, we opened a service center at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in 1967.
We also built major manufacturing facilities in The Netherlands, Canada, France, and Puerto Rico, and expanded into Latin America and Japan.
Today, Medtronic operates from more than 250 manufacturing facilities, sales offices, research centers, education centers, and administration facilities that serve customers and patients in 120 countries.
Treating More Conditions
In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s we leveraged our expertise to treat even more chronic conditions. We introduced a deep-brain stimulator and spinal cord stimulator to relieve chronic pain, an electro-spinal product for treating scoliosis, a mechanical heart valve, implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), and drug delivery systems.
In addition, we acquired nearly a dozen medical technology companies, enabling Medtronic to enter new markets, such as tissue heart valves, cardiopulmonary equipment, coronary angioplasty catheters, spinal fusion, and diabetes.
Changing the Way the World Treats Chronic Disease
Today, we’re reshaping the way the world manages chronic disease and conditions. Through bold thinking and global collaborations, we’re pushing the boundaries of medical technology to help people live better, longer, and at less cost to society.
Our latest heart rhythm devices automatically and wirelessly transmit information through a CareLink home monitor to a secure Web site accessible from the physician's office – making it easier for physicians to manage patients' conditions long-term.
We’re expanding our offerings to help patients manage their health across the entire continuum of care: from prevention and diagnosis to treatment and ongoing management. To do that we’re integrating our devices with information technology and biologics that broaden their functionality.
We’re also working to close gaps in access to needed therapies. Today, a lack of insurance, knowledge, and healthcare resources prevent millions of people around the world from receiving the help they need. Through education, philanthropy, and policy influence, we’re working to make medical technology more widely available.