The inventor of the direct-current defibrillator, Lewiston High School graduate Bernard Lown, will likely be featured on a U.S. dollar coin in 2024.

The proposed American Innovation $1 coin featuring Dr. Bernard Lown. United States Mint

The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee recently endorsed a proposed design for Maine’s contribution to the American Innovations coin program that features Lown’s bust, name and a defibrillator.

His family said it is honored at the selection and thanked Gov. Janet Mills for opting to highlight Lown on the coin meant to honor a Maine inventor or invention.

Lown, who died last year at the age of 99, shared in a Nobel Prize in 1985 for a group he helped to create called International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

He arrived in Lewiston from his native Lithuania at the age of 14 speaking only Yiddish, but three years later he was already in the honors program at the University of Maine. He later earned a medical degree from Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Lown became a cardiologist and research scientist who had several key inventions in the field and introduced the use of the drug lidocaine to control heartbeat fluctuations.


His daughter, Anne Lown, told the coin committee on Sept. 27 that “he was always in search of the least invasive treatment to improve patient outcomes,” focusing on sudden cardiac arrest.

She said he “studied how stress and intense emotions” can affect health and even lead directly to death.

From his work on the subject, he invented the direct-current defibrillator in 1962 to resuscitate a heart suffering arrest.

“He refused to get a patent,” she said, “as he did not want to profit off his invention but to have it globally available.”

Anne Lown said in an email that Gov. Janet Mills selected Lown for the honor of representing Maine innovation on the dollar coin, part of a program started in 2018 to showcase inventors and inventions from each U.S. state and territory.

Dr. Bernard Lown walks on the bridge renamed in his honor in 2008 in Lewiston. Lown was a Massachusetts cardiologist who invented the first reliable heart defibrillator and later co-founded an anti-nuclear war group that was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Sun Journal file photo

Maine is slated to have its coin come out in 2024.


The coin committee approved the design with one change, switching the inventor’s name on the coin from Dr. Bernard Lown to Bernard Lown, M.D. in order to emphasize his medical training.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen gets the final word on the choice and its design but she is expected to back it.

Anne Lown said her father fled Lithuania in 1935 to escape the growing antisemitism of the time. Many of his family who stayed beyond were murdered during World War II, which began just four years later, she said.

“This profoundly shaped my dad in his concern for social justice and world peace,” she told the coin panel.

Even as a medical student at Johns Hopkins, she said, her father “stood up for social justice.”

“While there, he worked at the Hopkins blood bank, where he discovered that black and white blood was segregated,” Anne Lown said.


“My dad refused to honor the racist system but found a way to undermine it by relabeling the blood,” she said. “When discovered, he was suspended from medical school.”

Fortunately, she said, “a group of friends protested his suspension by threatening further disruptive actions” so her father was reinstated, but fired from the blood bank.

Dr. Lown always remained keenly interested in social justice, which led to his anti-war work. A span between Lewiston and Auburn is named the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge in his honor.

Lown also wrote a bestselling book in 1996, “The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine.”

Anne Lown said “even in the darkest of times, my dad had an undying optimism and faith in humanity. He believed that each one of us could make a difference in changing the world if we join with others.”

“All my life I have heard my dad’s voice asking what am I doing to make a better world,” she said.

The coins in the American Innovations series don’t circulate generally. They are sold through the U.S. Mint in special packaging. The four-coin set for this year cost $24.

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