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Kansas’ ‘Goat Gland Doctor’ claimed his treatments could restore men’s vigor

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 14, 2013, at 7:52 p.m.

Ad Astra

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating the state’s history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, “Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.”

There wasn’t much John Romulus Brinkley didn’t think he could do.

In the 1930s, he owned his own radio station, baseball team, airplane and yacht and was in the process of running for Kansas governor.

He was popular and had easy name recognition.

After all, who in Kansas – or the nation, for that matter – hadn’t heard of the “Goat Gland Doctor”?

In the days before Viagra and infomercials, John Romulus Brinkley promised “youthful vigor” to American men who faithfully tuned in to his radio station for over-the-air prescriptions and word of his famed surgeries.

The story was told over and over again. In 1918, Brinkley opened a hospital in Milford and began transplanting goat glands into men, despite the fact he didn’t have a legitimate medical license from an accredited university.

One of his first patients was a farmer. And, when the farmer’s wife gave birth to a son, they named him “Billy.”

In 1923, he began broadcasting on one of the state’s first radio stations, KFKB, “Kansas First, Kansas Best.”

A goat gland transplant cost $750 – in advance. The surgeries, he claimed, could cure maladies such as impotence, flatulence and dementia.

Soon as his fame began to spread, “Dr.” Brinkley grew a goatee.

His baseball team became the “Brinkley Goats.”

He was as well-known on the radio as an orator as he was as a “doctor.”

He was among the first to use radio for commercial purposes. He introduced country-music acts on his station, including the Carter Family.

Forty-two days before the election in 1930, Brinkley announced he was running for governor as an Independent.

His platform was simple: free textbooks in schools, free tags for vehicles, lower taxes, better times for the working class, a lake in every county and more rainfall.

At the same time, the Kansas Board of Medical Registration and Examination began proceedings to revoke his license.

The Federal Radio Commission refused to renew his broadcasting license.

William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, began writing editorials exposing him as a fraud.

And the Kansas attorney general declared that in order for Brinkley’s ballots to be counted they had to be written in exactly as “John R. Brinkley” – any variations were to be thrown out.

Unfazed, Brinkley barnstormed the state in his airplane. He made speeches in big and little towns championing the little people and railing against big government.

Brinkley lost by 35,000 votes. Election results from that year indicate between 30,000 and 50,000 votes intended for him were thrown out.

Brinkley came in third that year – Harry Woodring took the governor’s seat, while Frank Haucke, the Republican candidate, came in second.

But by then, the grip Brinkley had on Kansas was beginning to slip.

Brinkley appealed the broadcasting permit denial and leased a telephone line to broadcast by remote from Kansas to a station in Mexico.

When the phone was outlawed, he prerecorded his commercials and sent them to the station.

He ran for governor again in 1932 and 1934, losing both times to well-known Topeka Republican Alf Landon.

And then, when he lost his medical license in Kansas, he moved to Texas and set up a hospital there.

By 1941, he was in bankruptcy. He died May 26, 1942, from a heart attack.

He was 56.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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