Published November 20, 2014
Wilson Greatbatch, whose invention of the implantable cardiac pacemaker has kept millions of hearts beating in rhythm, died Tuesday. He was 92.
Greatbatch died at an assisted living center in suburban Buffalo, where he had lived in recent years, said Kathryn Tarquin, spokeswoman for Greatbatch, Inc., the company he founded.The cause of death was not disclosed.
His son-in-law, Larry Maciariello, said his health had been “intermittent.”
In a lifetime of inventing, Greatbatch received more than 150 national and international patents, including one for the pacemaker, which was first implanted in humans in 1960. Today, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide receive them every year.
In 1988, Greatbatch was inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, following in the footsteps of his hero, inventor Thomas Edison.
After his own induction, Greatbatch for years continued to attend the hall’s yearly induction ceremonies.
He also made time each year to talk to children at five schools about scientific careers. His message to students: Don’t fear failure, don’t crave success. The reward is not in the results but in the doing.
“Nine things out of 10 won’t work,” he told The Associated Press in 1997, when he spoke about his lifelong passion for inventing. “The 10th one will pay for the other nine.”
He was trained as an electrical engineer at Cornell University and the University of Buffalo. He started Wilson Greatbatch Ltd. in 1970 to make batteries for the pacemaker. The company is now Greatbatch, Inc.
In 1983, the National Society of Professional Engineers chose the pacemaker as one of the 10 greatest engineering contributions to society during the past 50 years. The device was first successfully implanted in a 77-year-old man at Buffalo’s Veteran’s Affairs Hospital. The patient lived for 18 months.
Last year, Greatbatch Inc. celebrated the 50th anniversary of the device. The company’s president, Thomas Hook, said Greatbatch “pushed the limits of science” to develop it.
In 1996, at age 76, the Lemelson-MIT Prize board gave Greatbatch a lifetime achievement award.
In his later years, Greatbatch challenged the next generation of inventors to develop nuclear fusion with a type of helium found on the moon to replace fossil fuels, which he said will be exhausted by 2050.
He also worked toward finding a cure for AIDS.
Though his inventions brought him fame and fortune, Greatbatch held closely to his roots and family. He lived with his wife of more than 60 years, Eleanor — the maker of his trademark bowties — in an 1845 converted schoolhouse about 15 miles east of Buffalo.
“Our mental hospitals are full of people who couldn’t stand success, or who couldn’t stand failure,” he said in 1997.
The couple had moved in recent years to their assisted living residence, Oxford Village at Canterbury Woods. Eleanor Greatbatch died in January at age 90.
Greatbatch was a rear gunner and dive bomber in the Navy during World War II. As a chief petty officer, he taught in the Navy’s radar school, an extension of a childhood hobby of ham radio.
He taught engineering at the University of Buffalo from 1952 to 1957.
Greatbatch and his wife had five children.