For notoriety, and controversy, few North Carolinians can match John Romulus Brinkley (1885-1942), the famed “Goat Gland King” of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Jackson County, he was raised by an aunt after his mother’s death. Their house stood until 1984 when it was overtaken by time and kudzu.
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In 1908 Brinkley left his job in North Carolina as a telegraph operator and moved to Chicago where he entered Bennett Medical College, but soon dropped out. Nonetheless Brinkley shortly set up his first practice in Greenville, South Carolina. From there he moved to Arkansas and secured a degree from “Eclectic Medical University,” a “diploma mill,” in the modern phrase. His rise to fame commenced in 1922 with his development of an operation whereby the sex glands of goats were transplanted into the bodies of “tired” (read impotent) men. Brinkley’s ownership of radio station KFKB in Milford, Kansas, gave him means by which to publicize his treatment. It also gave him a platform by which to stage three tries for the Kansas governorship (in 1932 his entry allowed Republican Alf Landon to win with 280,000 votes to the Democrat’s 260,000 and independent Brinkley’s 240,000). Brinkley, compared by some to Huey Long, also pioneered the use of sound trucks and airplanes in campaigns.
Officials of the American Medical Association denounced “Dr.” Brinkley as a charlatan but scarcely dented the rush of business to his hospital. He lost his radio license and moved in 1933 to Del Rio, Texas, where he founded 500,000-wats XERA, the world’s most powerful radio station, across the border in Mexico. In Del Rio he emphasized prostate operations but continued to offer his specialty. At the height of his success, Brinkley, who sported a Van Dyke and favored jewelry (he lived “in the style of an Austrian Archduke,” according to a biographer), owned twelve Cadillacs, three yachts, a palatial home, and had a net worth of twelve million dollars. The press, particularly the Hearst newspapers, touted him as the “Kansas Ponce de Leon” and the “Goat Gland King.” The target of many lawsuits, he died bankrupt in 1942 and is buried in Memphis, Tennessee.
Gerald Carson, The Roguish World of Doctor Brinkley (1960)
Clement Wood, The Life of a Man: A Biography of John R. Brinkley (1934)
Francis W. Schruben, “The Wizard of Milford: Dr. John R. Brinkley and Brinkleyism,” Kansas History, vol. 14, no. 4 (winter 1992): 226-245
Ansen Harlan Resler, “The Impact of John R. Brinkley of Broadcasting in the United States” (Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1958)
(John R. Brinkley,) The Brinkley Operation (1922) and Dr. Brinkley’s Doctor Book (1933) – copies in the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 228-229 – sketch by William S. Powell
Max R. Williams, ed., The History of Jackson County (1987)
Asheville Citizen-Times, May 16, 1960; December 1, 1977; and September 2, 1988