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Mayo Clinic History: a Look Into Minnesota’s Fascinating Healthcare Pioneers

The Mayo Clinic, founded in Minnesota in the late 19th century, has a rich history of medical innovation and patient care that continues to this day.

The commitment to teamwork in their allied, group practice, and academic medical programs is evident in the name, honoring the Mayo family, who established the clinic more than 150 years ago.

In exploring the mayo clinic history, you’ll find several threads that span the course of their work—a deep-rooted commitment to their patients, a desire for knowledge, and a drive to educate others.

Health Care Pioneers

The Founding and Origins of the Mayo Clinic

Dr. William Worrall Mayo

William Worrall Mayo was an English-born physician and chemist who came to the United States in 1846. After a brief stint as a tailor, Dr. W. W. Mayo began practicing medicine in the States amidst a cholera outbreak in Indiana before relocating to Minnesota (then Minnesota Territory) in 1854 with his new wife.

Eventually, after settling in Rochester, W. W. Mayo opened his own private practice, the original Mayo Clinic, and not a moment too soon.

The Community’s Need for a Hospital

In 1883, a tornado hit W. W. Mayo’s town of Rochester, Minnesota, killing 37 and injuring over 200. W. W. Mayo went right to work, taking over the organization of medical care for the survivors.

Realizing the deficit of necessary medical care in the community, W.W. Mayo, alongside nurse Mother Alfred Moses who assisted him in caring for and housing the tornado victims, opened Rochester’s first hospital, Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys.

Early Years of Mayo Clinic History

With the funds to build the hospital raised by the nuns of St. Francis and the attending staff covered by W.W. Mayo and his two sons, now both also medical practitioners, the Mayo Clinic Hospital of Rochester was a notable success, drawing crowds of doctors and patients alike interested in the work of the Mayo family.

Expansion and Growth

Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie

By the time the hospital was up and running, Dr. W.W. Mayo was 70 years old and had taken more of a backseat in the Mayo Clinic as a consulting physician., leaving the surgeries and major treatments to his two sons, William James Mayo and Charles Horace Mayo, who were fondly referred to by patients and colleagues as Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie.

After graduating from medical school, they joined their father’s practice and made a name for themselves in the surgical field, a relatively new practice in the early 1900s.

Building the Mayo Clinic

Though the structure of the Mayo Clinic was in place, the Mayo doctors needed more help in meeting the needs of their patients. By 1904, the brothers, with their father by their side, were caring for over 4,000 patients a year, and the three doctors and five nurses of St. Francis were stretched thin.

As such, the Mayo brothers began to reach out and build a network of doctors who could all work together on-site to diagnose and treat a wider breadth of medical issues.

Innovations, Contributions, and Breakthroughs

Collaborative Work Throughout Mayo Clinic History

One of the ways the Mayo Clinic brought early innovation to the medical field was through the pioneering of collaborative work. Never before had doctors of different practices and different disciplines worked together as closely as they did in serving the Mayo Clinic, named the group practice model.

The first to join the team were Augustus W. Stinchfield, Christopher Graham, Melvin C. Millet, Henry Plummer, E. Star Judd, and Donald Balfour were the first to join the team. They each brought their own specialty, technique, and skillset to the quickly growing Mayo Clinic.

Doctors Collaborating

In addition to the surgery expertise brought on board by the Mayo brothers, the addition of the other physicians to the practice widened their range of specialties to include thyroid disease and gastrointestinal disease, as well as non-surgical care such as pathology.

Developing New Techniques and Standards

Of all the standards that the Mayo Clinic put into effective use and still uses today, the dossier-style medical record, where all information about a patient is compiled together and contained in one document, is perhaps the most enduring.

This system makes for a much more efficient process from diagnosis to discharge, wherein the whole attending team has access to the patient’s circumstances and details, cutting down on administrative confusion or delay.

The innovation of Mayo Clinic staff doesn’t stop with their work in the field. In 1914, the clinic built the first building designed with the multispecialty group practice method in mind, which made it easier to move around and reduced isolation between patients and practitioners.

In addition, Mayo Clinic practitioner Dr. Henry Plummer invented and advanced many commonplace tools still used today, such as steam sterilization rooms, metal surgical tools, and the pneumatic tube system.


One of the greatest contributions made early in Mayo Clinic history was its commitment to training and teaching. In 1915, the Clinic established the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, a medical teaching college offering programs in clinical practice and, eventually, biomedical research.

Medical Education Is Part of Mayo Clinic History

The MCCMS created one of the first graduate medical education programs in tandem with the University of Minnesota, with two of the first degrees conferred to women in 1917. Nowadays, the MCCMS grants both master’s and PhDs to thousands of prospective medical professionals.


From laboratory innovation to disease research, the Mayo Clinic has been and continues to be a leading research medical facility. The Mayo brothers took many opportunities to better themselves, traveling the world to learn from other practitioners and researchers and apply their findings to their own work.

Contributions and Firsts in Mayo Clinic History

The contributions and innovations Mayo Clinic has brought to the medical field are great in number, but some of their most outstanding achievements include:

  • Creating the first index to grade cancerous tumors
  • Developing the Mayo Stand, a mobile, adjustable instrument stand
  • Discovering cortisone
  • Performing the first series of open-heart surgeries using the Mayo-Gibbon heart-lung machine
  • Advancing frozen-section tumor analysis
  • Performing the first FDA-approved hip replacement

The Mayo Clinic Today

On Patient-Centered Care

All of their laboratory, surgical, and clinical innovations aside, the heart and soul of the Mayo Clinic lies in its patient-centered care and dedication to patient welfare.

Beginning with their use of the dossier medical records that made all the patient’s information easily accessible to the practitioners on staff, patient care has always been highly coordinated at the Mayo Clinic.

Patient Care

One unique aspect of the Mayo Clinic’s approach to patient care is the fixed-salary system, meaning the pay of the staff is not linked to patient volume or service. This is thought to facilitate more quality time spent with patients by decreasing monetary motivation to turn over patients quickly.

Additionally, the Clinic rode an early wave of medical facilities adopting the internet, a choice that revolutionized their communication with patients as well as other medical professionals.

As of 2018, over a million patients from all over the world were seen at Mayo Clinic facilities per year, often referred by smaller facilities.

National Expansion: The United States and Beyond

Today, the Mayo Clinic has two additional medical centers in Jacksonville, Florida and Scottsdale, Arizona.

However, their network reaches far beyond their brick-and-mortar—they have created a global community of like-minded medical professionals who continue to implement the Clinic’s innovation in their own work.

Leading the Healthcare Industry

Currently, the Mayo Clinic is one of the leading research facilities for the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2014, the clinic partnered with Apple to develop apps such as Apple Health and HealthKit, both of which have revolutionized healthcare and communication in the contemporary age.

Since 2009, the Clinic has mandated that the CEOs must be Mayo Clinic-trained physicians, attempting to disrupt the roadblocks and misunderstandings that might come from leaders with different priorities.

With the hopes that the experience as a working medical practitioner will inform more unified strategies and concerns, the Mayo Clinic has since become a singular operating company.

The Mayo Clinic’s commitment to advancing its practice still perseveres to this day through the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation. In 2015, the center opened the Well Living Lab, where staff could simulate and study real-world circumstances that show how today’s environment can impact our health.

In 2022, the Rochester location of the Mayo Clinic was ranked as the #1 hospital in the United States.

The Mayo Clinic History and Beyond

Under the watchful eyes of Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie, their father’s dream and life’s work flourished to become one of the most advanced and regarded surgical centers in the country.

With the introduction of the multispecialty group practice, that stewardship was passed off to thousands of medical professionals who keep the values of Dr. W.W. Mayo and his family close to their hearts: the centering of patient care, a thirst for medical knowledge, and an urge to help educate the world on how to best care for one another.

While you’re visiting the Rochester area, check out these 12 Awesome Restaurants in Rochester.