The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley

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University Press of Kentucky, Dec 1, 2002 - Medical - 283 pages
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Tells the story of the infamous “Goat Gland Doctor”—controversial medical charlatan, groundbreaking radio impresario, and prescient political campaigner—and recounts his amazing rags to riches to rags career. A popular joke of the 1920s posed the question, “What’s the fastest thing on four legs?” The punch line? “A goat passing Dr. Brinkley’s hospital!” It seems that John R. Brinkley’s virility rejuvenation cure—transplanting goat gonads into aging men—had taken the nation by storm. Never mind that “Doc” Brinkley’s medical credentials were shaky at best and that he prescribed medication over the airwaves via his high-power radio stations. The man built an empire. The Kansas Medical Board combined with the Federal Radio Commission to revoke Brinkley’s medical and radio licenses, which various courts upheld. Not to be stopped, Brinkley started a write-in campaign for Governor. He received more votes than any other candidate but lost due to invalidated and “misplaced” ballots. Brinkley’s tactics, particularly the use of his radio station and personal airplane, changed political campaigning forever. Brinkley then moved his radio medical practice to Del Rio, Texas, and began operating a “border blaster” on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande. His rogue stations, XER and its successor XERA, eventually broadcast at an antenna-shattering 1,000,000 watts and were not only a haven for Brinkley’s lucrative quackery, but also hosted an unprecedented number of then-unknown country musicians and other guests.

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The quirky story of John R. Brinkley includes many life lessons. One is the incredible gullibility of the American consumer. Another is the incredible power of Mass Media to influence the gullible American consumer. That John R. Brinkley almost became governor of Kansas shows the incredible gullibility of the American electorate. Given the early family life of Brinkley it isn't too surprising that he would fail to develop any moral character.
He clearly had usual gifts that could have been channeled in many more profitable directions. But because his moral compass was not only broken, but appears to have never even existed, he was ultimately to lose everything and to die in disgrace. The wicked often prosper for awhile, maybe even for their entire life, but justice eventually prevails.
Douglas E. Fox - Citrix Administrator, Theological Student


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Hands Across the Border
The Old Cocklebur
Decline and Fall

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About the author (2002)

R. Alton Lee is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Dakota. He taught American history for the last thirty years of his career, specializing in American labor and constitutional history. After retiring in 1996, he moved to Kansas where he has been researching Kansas history.

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