CommunityMontana Made


Montana Made: The Holter Research Foundation

Posted at 10:20 AM, Jul 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-23 17:34:24-04

HELENA – When folks think of Montana history, many picture the days of gold mining and logging, but few think of the Treasure State as being on the cutting edge of medical science.

The name Holter probably rings a bell to many in the Treasure State. It’s the family whose roots can be traced back to Montana’s mining days and is credited with introducing the lumber industry to the state. 

Even today various landmark bear the family’s name and as historians will tell you it’s hard to understate the family’s role in Montana’s early days. 

"The Holter family and businesses have their fingers in everything," said Joe Ann Stoltz with the Montana Historical Society.

One of those businesses — the Holter Research Foundation — was started by Jeff Holter and specialized in something called medical physics. 

"Out of that company becomes a large number of amazing medical devices and techniques that are used throughout the world today," Stoltz said.

Perhaps one of the Holter’s biggest contributions was a device that’s now ubiquitous in the medical field — and it was invented right in Montana’s capital city. 

The Holter Heart Monitor – the brain child of Jeff Holter and research partner Bill Glasscock – has gained worldwide attention since it went into commercial production in 1969.

The device tracks each beat of the heart for days at a time which helps to diagnose problems like arrhythmia or unexplained fainting. The monitor was developed at the Holter Research Laboratory in Helena.

The monitor is a small, wearable device roughly the size of your cell phone — although it wasn’t always that way. The device featured more than 80 pounds of equipment in its more primitive form.

"We — as today with all of our devices and instant communication — may have a tendency to see Montana as very primitive in the forties, but I’m going to say it was just the contrary," Stoltz said.

Holter was hardly content with just the monitor and continued throughout his life to push the envelope in biophysics, working to establish nuclear medicine facilities in Helena. 

While the Holter family had a big impact in Montana, it’s clear that Norman Jeff Holter had an even bigger impact on the medical community. He would later use his own invention on himself after suffering two heart attacks during the 1970s. 

Holter passed away in 1983 at the age 69. 

You can read more about the Holter Heart Monitor on the Smithsonian’s website including the following:

You probably know someone with a heart condition or someone who had a heart attack or even heart surgery.  I know I do. According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States and the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to a heart attack. Sobering data.  There are ways to prevent heart disease such as embracing a healthy lifestyle and there are diagnostic tools to monitor our hearts too, thanks to the work of two creative and persistent men, Norman “Jeff” Holter (1914-1983) and Bruce Del Mar (b. 1913-). Their collaboration, which spanned two decades, produced a commercially viable heart monitor known as the Holter Monitor Test. The Holter Monitor is a portable device for continuously monitoring heart activity for an extended period of time, typically twenty-four hours.  The monitor records electrical signals from the heart that are sent via a series of electrodes attached to the chest. The data is then analyzed for different sorts of heart beats and rhythms.