Buffalo Innovation: The Pacemaker

Buffalo inventor Wilson Greatbatch changed the game for the medical community right from his own backyard in Clarence, NY in 1958.

A Cornell University graduate and assistant professor in electrical engineering at the University of Buffalo, Greatbatch happened on a revolutionary idea in 1956 based on a small mistake while building a heart rhythm recording device. Greatbatch was using an ill-fitting piece, which, in turn, produced intermittent electrical pulses. Greatbatch recognized the unintentional pulses to be the sound of a heartbeat rhythm, instantly igniting the innovative idea for what we know today as a heart pacemaker.

After two years of putting prototype ideas to paper, Greatbatch quit his job-while supporting his family with his savings and a vegetable garden to fully focus on his idea of creating an internal pacemaker that would neither be disrupted by the user nor require charging. 50 prototypes and $2,000 later, Greatbatch’s first successful pacemaker was implanted into a 77-year-old man in 1960, keeping the patient alive for 30 months beyond expectations.

Even after this novel invention, Greatbatch continued to make profound impacts within the medical community. He proceeded to create additional inventions, obtaining over 50 US patents and 300 international patents. Greatbatch passed away at the age of 92 in 2011 in his Williamsville home, and is still known today as a humble inventor whose most notable invention still keeps hearts beating throughout the world daily.