Morris Tischler (Baltimore Sun / March 20, 2012)

Morris Tischler, a retired science teacher who invented a 1950s transistorized cardiac pacemaker, died of respiratory failure March 9 at his Pikesville home. He was 89.

He was born in Newark, N.J., but when his father's real estate business failed in the Depression of the 1930s, he moved with his family to Crisfield, where Mr. Tischler graduated from Crisfield High School. As a youth he dabbled in electronics and built a crystal radio set.

"I've seen the various technologies that have come along in my lifetime, from the television to the computer to the new hand-held devices," he told a writer for the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation News in a 2006 article. "I doubt that anything could be more fascinating than building an old crystal radio. It was so magical at that time to hear — without using electricity — people talking and singing, with their voices just coming out of the air. I can close my eyes now and still hear those sounds."

Mr. Tischler went into the Army Signal Corps and operated a radar station in the Philippines during World War II. He then earned a bachelor of science degree from the Johns Hopkins University and a master's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park.

He taught science at Forest Park High, Polytechnic Institute and the old Baltimore Junior College.

He befriended R Adams Cowley, a cardiac surgeon, while teaching an adult education class in high-fidelity stereo electronics.

"Cowley, who was quickly taken by Tischler's unique knowledge, encouraged Tischler to come work with him at the University of Maryland Medical Center," the 2006 article said. Mr. Tischler told the publication, "I didn't know anything about hospitals, but I took the job anyway."

His son, Joel Tischler of Salisbury, said Dr. Cowley called Mr. Tischler into an operating room while administering an open-chest heart massage.

"Cowley told my father, 'There's got to be a better way to do this. Can you design an electronic device to accomplish the same task?'" his son said.

The article said that in 1955 Mr. Tischler started work on his cardiac device. He initially tested it on animals.

The cardiac surgeon and Mr. Tischler founded a business, Electronic Aids.

Mr. Tischler took one of his devices to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's physician, Dr. Howard McC. Snyder. He never knew if it was used on the president, who had a history of heart disease. The president wore the second model he made on his belt, said his son.

"We were all invited to the White House to receive the president's thanks," his son said.

But the device was not commercially successful.

"There was another physician with electronics technicians at the Mayo Clinic at the same time. It is unclear who got the patent first or who gets the credit first," his son said. "The competing group at Mayo incorporated as the Medtronic Corp."

Mr. Tischler won a patent on his Cardiac Pacer in 1963. A New York Times article on his invention said, "A medical device about the size of a transistor radio, and about as simple to operate, restarts human hearts."

The article in the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation publication said Mr. Tischler "is believed to be the inventor of the first 'solid state' — or transistorized — external cardiac pacemaker."

His son said his father had no idea the pacemaker technology would one day grow to be as widespread as it has become.

"For him and Dr. Cowley, it was just a solution to a surgical problem," his son said.

Another son, Mark Tischler of Sunnyvale, Calif., said his father would go from hospital to hospital, cardiologist to cardiologist, to try to sell his device. He said it was too early for the Cardiac Pacer to be taken seriously. He was not a physician and had trouble gaining recognition, his son said. It never made money.