The Bakken Museum acquired its name from Earl Bakken. Bakken was born in 1924 and grew up in Minneapolis and received his training in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. In 1949 he co-founded Medtronic, which began by repairing medical electronic equipment, but soon began to sell and modify equipment, and to design and produce special-purpose devices. In 1957, working with Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Minnesota, Bakken developed the first wearable, external, battery-powered, transistorized pacemaker.
By 1960, Medtronic had become an established manufacturer of biomedical engineering devices, and in that same year began producing and marketing an implantable, portable pacemaker–that is, one that could be worn internally and that allowed the patient to move about freely. Today, Medtronic is a leader in the medical technology field and the world’s largest manufacturer of cardiac pacemakers.
Once his business was established, Bakken pursued his interest in the historical antecedents of using electricity for therapeutic purposes. In 1969 he asked Dennis Stillings, who worked in the Medtronic library, to see if he could find some old medical electrical machines.” At that time, according to Stillings, there was not much of a market in antique medical-electrical devices, and instead, with Bakken’s agreement, he began looking for early books about the therapeutic uses of electricity. He didn’t know it then, but Stillings would be working over the next decade with national and international antiquarian book and instrument dealers to build the world´s only library and museum collection devoted primarily to medical electricity.
Through his contacts with dealers and other collectors of early electrical and electro-medical books, Stillings developed leads on where to look for old machines to buy. By the early 1970s, he had assembled a sizable collection of books and was being offered significant early electrical machines. In 1974, two large lots of rare electrical devices were acquired.
During the first half of the l970s, the books and instruments were kept at the Medtronic corporate headquarters in St. Anthony Village, a suburb of Minneapolis, where a small museum was set up for their display. In 1975, the collection was moved to a Medtronic branch office at the Earle Brown Center, a corporate office complex in Brooklyn Park, another Minneapolis suburb, and one floor was turned over to the Medtronic Museum of Electricity in Life, as it was initially called. In October 1975 the collection was incorporated as a private, non-profit operating foundation and named the Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life.
In 1976, its present home was acquired–a mansion located on the west shore of Lake Calhoun in southwest Minneapolis. The house, called West Winds, was designed by Carl Gage for William Goodfellow and combines English Tudor, European Gothic Revival, and other architectural styles. It was built in 1928–30 and had been a private residence until it was acquired by Bakken. The library and museum staff and many of the books and instruments were moved in, although some of the collection was placed in storage in an old church for the next few years. In 1981, a 1200-square foot underground vault was completed, providing the latest in security and environmental protection. The vault temperature is maintained at 65 degrees Fahrenheit and the relative humidity held constant at 55 percent. Relatively little conservation work has been needed on the collection due to the excellence of this storage facility and the fact that most of the books and instruments were purchased in good to excellent condition.
In 1981, the name was changed to the Bakken Library of Electricity in Life in order to emphasize the importance of books and other printed sources. As educational programming became more prominent, the name was changed in 1986 to The Bakken. The Bakken is a 501(c)3 public non-profit organization. Charity information is available via the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.