Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN:

Past, Present & Future


History of Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic legacy began with Dr. William Worrall Mayo. Dr. W.W. Mayo came to America from England in 1846, and initially settled in Le Sueur, Minnesota. When he was appointed examining surgeon of the Union Army draft enrollment board for the southern half of Minnesota, he originally left his family behind in Le Sueur, MN to report to the board’s headquarters in Rochester. Dr. W.W. Mayo decided he liked the town and moved his family to Rochester in 1864. Dr. Mayo was 44 years old when he settled in Rochester with his wife Louise; his three daughters; and his first son, William James. The Mayo’s second son, Charles, was born in 1865, right at the end of the Civil War.

By the late 1860s, Rochester had become one of the state’s fastest-growing cities. By 1870, Rochester was a city with a population of over 3,900 residents. Dr. William Worrall (W.W.) Mayo, whose medical practice was growing quickly, was active in Rochester’s civic affairs and was elected to serve as mayor of Rochester from 1882 to 1883. Dr. Mayo’s two sons, William J. and Charles H. helped their father in his practice.

On August 21, 1883, three powerful tornadoes ripped through southeast Minnesota. One of the tornadoes—with a path of up to a mile wide—hit Rochester. The northern third of Rochester was devastated; 24 Rochester residents were killed and at least 200 were injured. When the tornado struck, Rochester didn’t have the outstanding medical facilities it has today – in fact, the closest hospital was nearly 80 miles away in St. Paul. Dr. W.W. Mayo immediately started triage and treated the wounded at Buck’s Hotel in downtown. His sons treated the injured at the Mayos’ medical office. Dr. Mayo called upon Mother Alfred Moes to also house and care for the injured and homeless at the Sisters of Saint Francis convent.

Following the tornado, Mother Alfred recognized that the growing city of Rochester needed a hospital. Mother Alfred’s vision for a hospital – a place for active medical intervention – was revolutionary for its day. As late as 1890, there were only three hospitals in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Mother Alfred approached Dr. W.W. Mayo with a proposal – the Sisters of St. Francis would build the hospital and supply the nursing staff, if the doctor would provide the medical staff. In fall 1889, Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus opened with 27 beds. Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie Mayo served as the two attending surgeons while Dr. W.W. Mayo, who was now 70 years old, was the consulting physician. Five Sisters made up the rest of the hospital staff.

The young Doctors Mayo achieve notable success in the new field of surgery during the 1890s. They began to partner with other doctors, creating a group of doctors who could research, diagnose, and treat all in the same location. As the Mayos’ skill grew, their practice expanded. By 1904, the two doctors were operating on over 4,000 patients each year. By 1920, over 60,000 people came to Rochester each year for medical treatment. In contrast, Rochester’s entire population was just over 13,700 residents! New laboratories, improved medical record keeping, advanced training for physicians in many specialties, and quality medical diagnoses and care in well-equipped modern hospitals brought Mayo Clinic a worldwide reputation in the 1920s.

The Great Depression during the 1930s meant people had much less money to spend, and fewer were able to travel to Mayo Clinic for treatment. It wasn’t until after World War II (1941-1945) ended that our community saw patients return in large numbers to Mayo Clinic.

Learn more about the remarkable history and culture of Mayo Clinic.

Innovations by Mayo Clinic

Over the course of its history, Mayo Clinic has been on the forefront of discoveries and innovations, and Mayo Clinic continues to evolve and solidify its spot as one of the leading medical institutions in the world. Some major innovations from Mayo Clinic include:

Developed and implemented the concept of integrated, multi-specialty group practice of medicine

Created an integrated medical record

Performed the first series of open-heart surgeries

Introduced the first CT scanner in North America

Developed a DNA test to rapidly diagnose anthrax

Developed a system for grading cancer on a numerical basis, a system adopted worldwide and still used today

Established the first hospital-based blood bank in the United States

Demonstrated the link between insulin and diabetes; one of the first to use insulin in diabetes treatment

Mayo Clinic: Present and Future

Each year, Mayo Clinic sees more than 1.3 million people from all 50 states and 137 countries worldwide. Mayo Clinic employs 35,000 employees in Rochester alone, and that number is growing as a 20-year, $5.6 billion economic development initiative is underway that is transforming the city of Rochester into a Destination Medical Center (DMC). The largest in Minnesota’s history, the DMC initiative is positioning Minnesota as a global center for the highest quality medical care.

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