"Doctor" John Romulus Brinkley was widely considered to be the King of American medical quack
s. Much of the information surrounding him is contradictory to say the least, primarily due a biography he commisioned when he was at the height of his power, entitled 'The Life of a Man
', the information contained within is considered to be about as useful as his medical
Many sources agree that he was born on July 8, 1885 in Jackson County, North Carolina to Dr. John Brinkley and his wife, Candice. His parents died when he was young, and Binkley was raised by his aunt. There is no record of him ever having completed his secondary school education, and he spent his teens working as a telegraph operator.
His first foray into the world of quackery came shortly after his aunt died in 1907, and he married his first wife, Sally Wilke. The young couple travelled around the North Western US, with John earning money performing odd jobs, and occasionally working as a snake-oil salesman. His first 'medical' job was when he assisted a 'gentlemans surgeon' who administered alleged cures for various forms of VD. The constant travelling was having a detrimental effect on his marriage, and in 1913 he divorced his wife, who fleft him, taking with her his three daughters.
John had taken to the medical life particularly well, and decided to strike out on his own, peddling his new treatment, an injection of coloured water which was claimed to renew sexual vigour, for $25 a shot with his partner, ex-armed robber James Crawford under the guise of the 'Greenville Electro Medical Doctors'. The entire business was run on credit terms, so when the pair skipped town in 1915 , the authorities weren't too impressed and tracked them down, in Memphis, where John had taken his second wife, Minnie Jones.
Brinkley's father in law bailed him out, and the newly married couple crossed over into Arkansas, where he practiced as a rural physician for a couple of years, before buying a medical diploma from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City, for $500 dollars. This dubious qualification entitled Brinkley to practice in the state of Kansas, and so he and his wife and their recently born young son moved to the small town of Milford.
In 1918, at the suggestion of a local farmer, he started offering his male patients a contraversial treatment, intended to restore their flagging virility. This involved the implantation of a 'Toggenberg goat gland' into the patients scrotum, before liberating him of $750. For some unknown reason, this operation became highly popular, with as many as one hundred patients passing through his doors.
Unsurprisingly the good doctor became very rich, very quickly, and started touring the country with his cures. He attempted to open a branch of his practice in Chicago in, but the local doctors saw straight through his 'research' and quickly had him closed down. He performed his operation on Los Angeles Times magnate Harry Chandler, who sang his praises in the press, causing even more business to be put the way of the good doctor.
Partially due to the work of his latest convert, but also due to his mastery of the hard sell by 1927, Brinkley had over five hundred people a day visted Milford, many of them lining up to be charged their $750 in return for the operation. He also set up his very own radio station station, KFKB 1050, powered by a 1000 watt behemoth of a transmitter that could apparently be heard halfway across the Atlantic, through which he sold his wares for vastly inflated prices. By now over 3,000 letters a day eventually started pouring into Milford, so Brinkley built the town a new Post Office
His blatant disregard for standard medical practice had the real medical practicioners up in arms, and in 1928 the secretary of the American Medical Association, Dr. Morris Fishbein, gave him a public dressing down for diagnosing illnesses, and prescribing his own patent medicine over the radio Due to this incident, Brinkley's medical and broadcasting licenses were both revoked.
In a bizarre attempt to get his license back, Binkley ran for Governor in 1930, with the intention of replacing the State Medical Board with his puppets. He very nearly won, and probably would've if several thousand of his votes weren't dismissed on technical grounds, but this didn't stop him trying the same thing in '32, and '34.
His other plan to continue making money from his patent medicine scams, which was put into action at the same time as his electoral campaign, was to set up a transmitter in Mexico. he sold KFKB for $90,000 and set up his new station known as XEB Radio. His shows went out over a rented $10,000-a-month telephone line to the station, thus circumventing the licensing laws. This new transmitter was just over 500,000 watts in power, making it the most powerful radio transmitter in the world at the time, scouring other stations off the air.
His clinic stayed in Milford though, until 1933 when he grew sick of the massive phone bills he was running up, and moved the entire apparatus to Del Rio in Texas, just across the border from his relauched XERA station with its newly boosted million watt directional transmitter. This new upgrade meant that often the only thing you could hear on the airwaves of the continental USA was Brinkley's station.
By the end of 1937, Brinkley was at the peak of his power. The AMA were powerless to do anything about his operations, and he had opened two new radio stations and several clinics to earn him yet more money. But all was not well in Brinkleys empire. It was estimated that during his time broadcasting from Mexico, between 1933 and 1938 he earned $12 million, and in 1939, the IRS started to hound him for over $200,000 of back taxes, his old nemesis Dr. Morris Fishbein, managed to win a libel case against him, and he was losing thousands of dollars as patients brought malpractice suits against him. The rhetoric on his radio stations became uglier and uglier, and his guests on the show became a who's who of the American Nazi organisation.
By 1941 The US Government had managed to strike a deal with their Mexican counterparts, and had Brinkley's license revoked, which possibly contributed to the massive heart attack he suffered shortly after, which caused him to lose a leg. His health went into a steep decline and on May 26, 1942, he died in San Antonio of heart failure. He was buried in Memphis, Tennessee.