Wayne Quinton at an award ceremony in 2009. He was featured in a documentary produced by BYUTV in 2011. Watch it in the video player above. | Photo courtesy Buddy Ratner
RIGBY – People from Rigby have grown up knowing their hometown is the birthplace of television. Its inventor, Philo T. Farnsworth, grew up there and a large billboard outside city limits on the south end of town officially acknowledges the city’s claim to fame.
Residents are also familiar with Rigby’s other famous citizen, sports star Larry Wilson.
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But there’s another person from Rigby not as well-known, but whose accomplishments have also had a significant worldwide impact. His name is Wayne Quinton.
Courtesy Buddy Ratner
Who is Wayne Quinton?
Quinton, who died of congestive heart failure in 2015, is credited with inventing dozens of biomedical devices that have helped save thousands of lives over the years. One of his most acclaimed creations is the lightweight treadmill, which was originally used for cardiac stress testing and was the forerunner to the exercise machine now used by millions of people in homes and fitness centers worldwide.
Quinton also co-invented a shunt that allowed kidney patients to be directly connected to dialysis machines, which later inspired the use of catheters.
An article about Quinton published in a University of Washington alumni magazine in 2009 — a college he attended and worked at — says he came up with the idea to allow continuous blood flow during dialysis and prevent blood from clotting.
He explained how the shunt worked in an interview with BYUTV in 2011.
“I developed a kind of sheep-shank arrangement that went to a 180-degree turn and cooked up a little connection system so that we could connect it mechanically to the kidney,” Quinton said.
Shunt developed by Wayne Quinton, Belding Scribner and David Dillard. | Researchgate.net
Before he developed these life-saving devices, Quinton demonstrated a strong aptitude for math and science. His curiosity for how things worked began many years ago during his boyhood in Rigby.
Molding a mechanical mind
Quinton was born on Jan. 4, 1921. He was the only child of Ada and Alfred Quinton, who owned a moving and storage company. Recalling early childhood experiences that shaped his future mechanical prowess, Wayne told BYUTV he was often captivated by an electric model airplane in his dad’s shop.
“When he turned the electric motor on, it turned the propellor, and the thing went around in a circle. I’d sit and watch that for quite a while,” he said.
A little red car tied to a string at the grocery store where his mom worked as a bookkeeper was equally fascinating to Quinton. When a customer needed change for their purchase, employees would put the money in the car and pull the string, which propelled it up to his mom’s office on the second floor.
“Mother would take the money out of it, make the change and shoot it back. She’d take me there occasionally, and I had great fun pulling the trigger on this thing to send it back,” Quinton said.
Quinton, second from left, pictured with his mother, Ada, sometime in the 1920s. Wayne’s father, Alfred, is in the opposite photo. | Documentary screenshot via YouTube
His obituary in the Seattle Times indicates he read a lot of physics books he collected from the Rigby city dump and build his first car from parts he collected there.
During his high school years, Quinton’s father had a heart attack, which confined him to bed for the rest of his life. Ada owned a dry-cleaning plant, and Quinton would drive her to work every morning. In a University of Washington magazine article, Quinton says he made a plow for the family Buick to make it easier to travel the snow-covered roads in the winter.
After graduating from high school in 1939, Quinton went on to attend then-Ricks College before transferring to Montana State College. He dropped out of school a year later and moved home to Rigby. Little did he know that the most significant career-building experience of his life was about to begin.
An accomplished career
On December 7, 1941, the nation was plunged into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Boeing had sent people all over Idaho, Montana and Utah to hire people with technical backgrounds (for the war effort),” said Quinton. “A week after Pearl Harbor, I went to work for Boeing, and I ended up as the chief planner for the B-29 bomber, Bombay section.”
During this time, Quinton worked with a team of people to design and build the airplanes. Despite his lack of education, it proved to be valuable on-the-job training, and his collaboration with physicists and other experts is something he continued the rest of his life.
“When … I understood what the production plan was about, the Bombay section … went through (production) so fast that we had to shut (it) down because we couldn’t store them all,” Quinton explained. “That was a learning experience for me. Teamwork is the only way you can accomplish these things.”
B-29 bombers under construction during World War II. | YouTube screenshot
Eventually, he helped develop Boeing’s first guided missile. He resigned in 1948 and ended up getting a job at the University of Washington and ultimately earning a degree before launching Quinton Instruments in 1959, the company through which he invented his gadgets. (It employed 700 people and was making $100 million in annual sales when he sold it in 1984, according to the university).
Quinton married late in life. At age 65, he and his wife, Jeanne, were wed in 1986 and had two children together, according to his obituary. His colleague at the University of Washington, Buddy Ratner, describes Quinton as a man with a lot of optimism and deep faith. Quinton was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Quinton received numerous industry awards over the years and was honored in 2009 with the university’s highest honor — the Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus, or the “alumnus worthy of the highest praise.”
He was 94 when he died.
Of all that Quinton accomplished throughout his life, Ratner tells EastIdahoNews.com one of the most significant was his collaboration with doctors and the medical industry, which informed his inventions and was instrumental in the creation of the bioengineering field.
Ratner says the shunt was Quinton’s greatest invention because of its lasting impact on the world.
“Prior to 1960, if your kidneys failed, you died. There were simply no other options,” Ratner says. “Belding Scribner had this idea. Quinton made it happen. Today, we’re keeping 3.5 million people worldwide alive who would be dead if it wasn’t for the work those guys did.”
Wayne Quinton and Buddy Ratner in 2009. | Courtesy Buddy Ratner
A lot of new technology has been developed as a result of Quinton’s work and Ratner is working to “take his legacy into the 21st century” with the development of a mobile, backpack-sized kidney-dialysis device. Watch the video below to learn more.
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