Hewlett and Wilson: Michigan’s First Big Names in Cardiology
Bookplate of Frank Norman Wilson reflecting his achievements with illustrations from his scientific publications. From Not Just Any Medical School by Horace Davenport. © 1999 The University of Michigan Press.
For more than a century, the University of Michigan has played a prominent role
in the field of cardiology, a role that owes much to two physicians who, in
the 1900s, made significant strides in helping the medical community better
understand the cardiovascular system.
Cardiologist Albion Walter Hewlett joined the U-M Medical School in 1908 after
Cooper Medical College, where he held a faculty position, was damaged in the
San Francisco earthquake. In addition to Hewlett’s pioneering work measuring
blood flow, analyzing cardiac arrythmias, and determining the effects of certain
chemicals, such as amyl nitrite, upon blood vessels, he also advocated for laboratory
tests to supplement clinical evaluation. But one of Hewlett’s most valuable
contributions to cardiology at Michigan was raising the funds needed to purchase
an electrocardiograph in 1914, first introduced in the United States in 1909.
Hewlett had stated prophetically in a 1909 article in Physician and Surgeon that “it is not improbable that the electrocardiogram will ultimately
permit of an early diagnosis of disease of the heart muscle.” Another
of his valuable contributions was giving free reign to his assistant, Frank
Norman Wilson, to get the machine working. Wilson accomplished that when he
recorded the electrocardiogram of a 72-year-old farmer in March of 1914.
Wilson’s research at Michigan over the next 32 years made him the world’s
leading electrocardiographer. Hewlett returned to California in 1916 to accept
a faculty position at Stanford. His son William established the family name
in computer technology by co-founding the Hewlett Packard Company.
Pioneering the Pacemaker in Michigan