10545 Main Street, Clarence, N.Y. 14031 (U.S.A.)
(716) 759-6078 FAX (716) 759-7925
Clarence, New York. The Order of Alexander the Great for Art and Science is proud to announce: Dr. Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the implantable heartpacemaker, was honored by the National Academy of Engineering by being awarded the Russ Prize, that is described as the Nobel Prize of engineering.
The Order and its worldwide Members and supporters congratulate Wilson Greatbatch, the Vice-President of the Order, cordially.
Among the media-reports of TV and Press we publish the following article by The Buffalo News, which carried the story on the front page, with a photo of the inventor.
For further inquiries and congratulations you may contact: The Order of Alexander the Great, 10545 Main Street, Clarence, New York 14031.
Consul B. John Zavrel
Chancellor of the Order
February 1, 2001
News Washington Bureau Chief
Washington. - The legendary career of one of Western New York's most prolific inventors will be crowned here today when the National Academy of Engineering presents him with its newest, and one of its most prestigeous, awards.
Wilson Greatbatch of Clarence, inventor of the implantable heart pacemaker, will receive half of a $ 500,000 prize that is described as the Nobel Prize of engineering.
Greatbatch is a sixth-generation Western New Yorker, born in Children's Hospital and raised on the West Side.
Gifted with a self-effacing sense of humor, Greatbatch has lived the almost-mythical solitary inventor's life.
As a toddler, he experimented with a harmonica. In middle age, he invented a cardiac device that has saved millions of lives. Now, at 81, Greatbatch is seeking a cure for AIDS.
His wide-ranging and penetrating curiosity also has moved him to pursue breakthroughs in applying genetic science to medicine and agriculture, and in nuclear power generation.
His early success was born in Western New York. His world-famous heart pacemaker, implanted in more than 600,000 people last year, was developed in a barn in Clarence using $ 2,000 in family savings.
"Perhaps my greatest satisfaction was when it was first hooked up to a dog's eart," Greatbatch said, in an operation in 1958 at Buffalo Veterans Hospital.
"It worked, and I was just elated," he said. "A 2-cubic inch piece of electronics, and it was running a heart."
Though most of his fame stems from the pacemaker, Greatbatch has spent most of the past two decades in research for a cure for AIDS. He holds two world patents in AIDS research; two others are pending.
He originally collaborated on research into the viral killer with an agricultural scientist at Cornell University station in Geneva, but Greatbatch now divides his time between research teams at the University of Rochester School of Engineering and the National Institutes of Health in suburban Maryland.
His original co-worker, Greatbatch said, "did some genetic engineering with an onion and sold it off, and he made a lot of money on that one."
Greatbatch's inventions are earning him a share of the Russ Prize in Engineering, co-sponsored by the engineering branch of the National Academy of Sciences and Ohio University.
In 1996, he earned a lifetime achievement award from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology; in 1986, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
In 1985, the National Society of Professional Engineers named Greatbatch's invention of the pacemaker one of the 10 greatest engineering contributions to society of the past 50 years.
It was at Millard Fillmore Hospital in APril 1960 that the device was first implanted into a human being -- "a fellow named Hennaselt," Greatbatch said Wednesday.
By his own account, Greatbatch is not a wealthy man, despite holding 220 patents, having founded four companies, and with the pacemaker used by millions of people worldwide.
"I gave most of it away," he said. "I built five buildings at Houghton College. I have enough. I live in a (converted) one-room schoolhouse here. You don't need more than you need."
Houghton gave him an honorary doctorate in 1970.
Greatbatch played football at West Seneca High School.
"I was the heaviest guy on the team, played tackle," he said. "I weighed 150 pounds."
During World War II, Greatbatch flew combat missions. With all that death around him, he began carrying a Bible in his pants leg during each mission.
After service, he attended Buffalo State Teachers College.
"I thought I wanted to teach industrial arts," he said.
"I talked my way into the engineering school at Cornell. The only distinction I had there was that my wife and I had the most children of anyone in school. We had three then, later two more."
He solved his post-World War II housing problem by buying a run-down farm in Tompkins County for $ 1,300, and commuted back and forth to Cornell in a 1936 Buick.
Asked if he was thrilled about winning the award, Greatbatch said: "That's all in the past. They keep giving you awards for things you did 20 years ago."
But as recently as 1993, he received his first AIDS patent for a technique to inhibit a similar virus from replicating in cats.
PRIZE INCLUDES $ 250,000
And not long ago, he built a canoe that traveled 150 miles on solar power on Seneca Lake.
"We had three inches of free-board (clearance) on that thing," he said. "One whitecap and it was over."
Noting that Thomas Edison had more than 1,000 patents to his name, Greatbatch said he has only 220. "I have a goal of having one patent a month," he said. "I figure I can catch up with him in 70 years."
He's sharing the Russ Prize with Earl Bakken, inventor of the wearable cacemaker. Each will get $ 250,000.
About the same time Greatbatch was developing the implantable pacemaker, Bakken was working on the first wearable, battery-powered external pacemaker.
Greatbatch was told of the award in December. Ironically, he had been asked to write a letter recommending Bakken for the award, and did so -- not knowing he was up for the prize himself.
The Russ Prize, which will be awarded every year, is named for engineer and inventor Fritz J. Russ and his wife, Dolores, in recognition of outstanding achievement in biotechnology engineering.
The pacemaker restores the heartbeat to a normal rate, and is most often used to relieve the symptoms of bradycardia, a condition in which the heart beats at less than 60 beats a minute, a rate that may not meet the body's demands.
The invention resulted from a lab mistake Greatbatch made nearly half-century ago. He was making an oscillator to record heart sounds and erroneously used a resistor with the wrong resistance. It gave a steady pulse. So Greatbatch thought it might be used to steady the human heart. Until then, machines used for that purpose were the size of a TV set.
AVAILABLE TO STUDENTS
Greatbatch said the key to miniturizing the pacemaker was the development of the transistor, invented at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey in the mid-1950s.
Among the businesses he founded are Greatbatch Gen-Aid, which provides genetic assistance to industry; Greatbatch Enterprises, which researches nuclear power generation through fusion; and Wilson Greatbatch Inc. to make, sell and license iodide battery to pacemaker manufacturers.
In 1963, he founded Mennen-Greatbatch Electronics to commercialize the instrument system he invented for the first monkey space shots.
With all of this, Greatbatch finds time to meet and talk with college students, according to the MIT citation.
It reads in part: "Invariably he repeats passages from his favorite two-minute speech, first given in 1987 at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. He urges listeners: Don't fear failure. Don't crave success. The reward is not in the results, but rather in the doing."
February 1, 2001