In 1889, John Alexander MacWilliam reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) of his experiments in which application of an electrical impulse to the human heart in asystole caused a ventricular contraction and that a heart rhythm of 60–70 beats per minute could be evoked by impulses applied at spacings equal to 60–70/minute.
In 1926, Dr Mark C Lidwill of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital of Sydney, supported by physicist Edgar H. Booth of the University of Sydney, devised a portable apparatus which "plugged into a lighting point" and in which "One pole was applied to a skin pad soaked in strong salt solution" while the other pole "consisted of a needle insulated except at its point, and was plunged into the appropriate cardiac chamber". "The pacemaker rate was variable from about 80 to 120 pulses per minute, and likewise the voltage variable from 1.5 to 120 volts". In 1928, the apparatus was used to revive a stillborn infant at Crown Street Women's Hospital, Sydney whose heart continued "to beat on its own accord", "at the end of 10 minutes" of stimulation.
In 1932, American physiologist Albert Hyman, with the help of his brother, described an electro-mechanical instrument of his own, powered by a spring-wound hand-cranked motor. Hyman himself referred to his invention as an "artificial pacemaker", the term continuing in use to this day.
An apparent hiatus in publication of research conducted between the early 1930s and World War II may be attributed to the public perception of interfering with nature by "reviving the dead". For example, "Hyman did not publish data on the use of his pacemaker in humans because of adverse publicity, both among his fellow physicians, and due to newspaper reporting at the time. Lidwell may have been aware of this and did not proceed with his experiments in humans".
In 1950, Canadian electrical engineer John Hopps designed and built the first external pacemaker based upon observations by cardio-thoracic surgeon's Wilfred Gordon Bigelow and John Callaghan at Toronto General Hospital, although the device was first tested at the University of Toronto's Banting Institute on a dog. A substantial external device using vacuum tube technology to provide transcutaneous pacing, it was somewhat crude and painful to the patient in use and, being powered from an AC wall socket, carried a potential hazard of electrocution of the patient and inducing ventricular fibrillation.
A number of innovators, including Paul Zoll, made smaller but still bulky transcutaneous pacing devices in the following years using a large rechargeable battery as the power supply.
In 1957, William L. Weirich published the results of research performed at the University of Minnesota. These studies demonstrated the restoration of heart rate, cardiac output and mean aortic pressures in animal subjects with complete heart block through the use of a myocardial electrode.
In 1958 Colombian doctor Alberto Vejarano Laverde and Colombian electrical engineer Jorge Reynolds Pombo constructed an external pacemaker, similar to those of Hopps and Zoll, weighing 45 kg and powered by a 12 volt car lead acid battery, but connected to electrodes attached to the heart. This apparatus was successfully used to sustain a 70-year-old priest, Gerardo Florez.
The development of the silicon transistor and its first commercial availability in 1956 was the pivotal event which led to rapid development of practical cardiac pacemaking.
In 1958, engineer Earl Bakken of Minneapolis, Minnesota, produced the first wearable external pacemaker for a patient of C. Walton Lillehei. This transistorized pacemaker, housed in a small plastic box, had controls to permit adjustment of pacing heart rate and output voltage and was connected to electrode leads which passed through the skin of the patient to terminate in electrodes attached to the surface of the myocardium of the heart.
One of the earliest patients to receive this Lucas pacemaker device was a woman in her early 30s in an operation carried out in 1964 at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford by cardiac surgeon Dr Alf Gunning from South Africa and later Professor Gunning who was a student of Dr Christiaan Barnard. This pioneering operation was carried out under the guidance of cardiac consultant Dr Peter Sleight at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford and his cardiac research team at St George's Hospital in London. Dr Sleight later became Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Oxford University.
Illustration of implanted cardiac pacemaker showing locations of cardiac pacemaker leads
The first clinical implantation into a human of a fully implantable pacemaker was in 1958 at the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, using a pacemaker designed by Rune Elmqvist and surgeon Åke Senning, connected to electrodes attached to the myocardium of the heart by thoracotomy. The device failed after three hours. A second device was then implanted which lasted for two days. The world's first implantable pacemaker patient, Arne Larsson, went on to receive 26 different pacemakers during his lifetime. He died in 2001, at the age of 86, outliving the inventor as well as the surgeon.
In 1959, temporary transvenous pacing was first demonstrated by Seymore Furman and John Schwedel, whereby the catheter electrode was inserted via the patient's basilic vein.
In February 1960, an improved version of the Swedish Elmqvist design was implanted in Montevideo, Uruguay in the Casmu 1 Hospital by Doctors Orestes Fiandra and Roberto Rubio. That device lasted until the patient died of other ailments, nine months later. The early Swedish-designed devices used rechargeable batteries, which were charged by an induction coil from the outside. It was the first pacemaker implanted in America.
Implantable pacemakers constructed by engineer Wilson Greatbatch entered use in humans from April 1960 following extensive animal testing. The Greatbatch innovation varied from the earlier Swedish devices in using primary cells (mercury battery) as the energy source. The first patient lived for a further 18 months.
The first use of transvenous pacing in conjunction with an implanted pacemaker was by Parsonnet in the United States, Lagergren in Sweden and Jean-Jacques Welti in France in 1962–63. The transvenous, or pervenous, procedure involved incision of a vein into which was inserted the catheter electrode lead under fluoroscopic guidance, until it was lodged within the trabeculae of the right ventricle. This method was to become the method of choice by the mid-1960s.
Cardiothoracic Surgeon Leon Abrams, and Medical Engineer Ray Lightwood, developed and implanted the first patient controlled variable rate heart pacemaker in 1960 at Birmingham University. The first implant took place in March 1960, with two further implants the following month. These three patients made good recoveries and returned to a high quality of life. By 1966, 56 patients had undergone implantation with one surviving for over 5 1⁄2 years.