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Wilson Greatbatch served as associate engineer with the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, Buffalo, N.Y. , from 1952 to 1953, later joining the University of Buffalo as assistant professor of electrical engineering from 1953 to 1957. He also associated himself with the University's Chronic Disease Research Institution investigating the analysis of high-frequency heart sound components. In 1957, he left the University of Buffalo to become a division manager at Taber Instrument Corporation, North Tonawonda, N.Y.
While at Taber, Mr. Greatbatch began his work on the implantable pacemaker. Using his own savings, he hand-built 50 pacemakers, 10 of which were implanted into humans. Wanting to dedicate all of his time to the development of pacemakers, he left Taber and founded Wilson Greatbatch, Incorporated, in 1960.
His pacemaker was licensed to Medtronic, Incorporated, Minneapolis, Minn., and achieved quick clinical acceptance in the medical world. He continued to improve and refine the pacemaker's power source, adding, in the early 1970s, a battery with a lithium anode, an iodide cathode, and a solid-state, self-healing electrolyte. In 1963, Mennen-Greatbatch Electronics, Incorporated, was formed to commercialize the astronaut physiological instrumentation that he built for the first U.S. monkey space shots. In 1961, he sold his pacemaker patents to Medtronic, Mennen-Greatbatch purchased the assets of Wilson Greatbatch, Ltd., and created a successful line of hospital medical monitoring equipment.
In 1970, Mr. Greatbatch reactivated Wilson Greatbatch, Ltd., to manufacture, market, and license the lithium iodide battery to the pacemaker community. This battery soon became used in more than 90% of the world's pacemakers. The company had a management buyout, went public in 1999, and currently employs more than 800 people in five locations in the U.S.
In 1985, Mr. Greatbatch formed Greatbatch Gen-Aid, Ltd., to provide genetic assistance to medical and agricultural professions, and Greatbatch Enterprises, Incorporated, in 1999 to pursue nuclear power generation through the nuclear fusion of helium-3 ions and to consider the design of a MRI compatible pacemaker.
Born in 1919 in Buffalo, N.Y., Wilson Greatbatch attended Cornell University, earning his bachelor of engineering degree in 1950. He earned his master's degree in electrical engineering from University of Buffalo in 1957 and has received four honorary doctorates. He resides in Akron, N.Y., with Eleanor, his wife of 56 years.