John Romulus Brinkley (1885 to 1942)
Without doubt Viagra has been a boon for certain sectors of the male population. Prior to its development males were prone to exploitation by many a quacksalver in their desperation to find a cure for their loss of potency.
Step forward our latest inductee into our Hall of Fame, John Brinkley.
Starting out his medical career as a snake-oil salesman Brinkley actually gained some medical qualifications and developed an air of respectability through setting up a 16-room clinic in Milford where he was successful in treating and restoring back to health many who had succumbed to the virulent and deadly outbreak of influenza in 1918.
He then plied his fevered mind to the problems of male impotency. The story goes that when he was approached by someone to fix a patient’s impotency problems, he jokingly retorted that the unfortunate patient would have no problems if he had a couple of buck goat glands implanted in him. The patient took him up on his word and Brinkley was persuaded to transplant the goat glands into him. Surprisingly, the operation was successful and nine months later the patient had sired a son, named unsurprisingly Billy.
This success spurred our mad scientist on and he started advertising and was soon carrying out operations to transplant the testicular glands of goats into his male patients at $750 a shot. Over 16,000 men had their scrotums cut open and goat gonads placed in their sacs. The patient’s body would absorb the gonads as foreign matter; the organs were never accepted as part of the body. At best, the men’s bodies simply broke down the goat tissues and healed up but some were not so lucky. Their fate was compounded by Brinkley’s questionable medical training and his custom of performing many of his operations whilst worse for drink.
It is thought that 43 died directly as a result of his operation whilst hundreds more died from complications such as gangrene and infection. Not unsurprisingly, the authorities in Kansas revoked his medical licence in 1930 but that did not deter our mad clinician. He skipped over the border to Mexico and started up again performing his goat-gland operations.
Justice eventually caught up with him though. Morris Fishbein made a career out of exposing medical frauds and in 1938 published “Modern Medical Charlatans” which included a damning indictment of Brinkley’s career and methods. Brinkley responded by suing Fishbein for $250,000. The jury found in Fishbein’s favour and this verdict led to a barrage of lawsuits against Brinkley, claiming in total around $3m. Our hero then had the tax authorities round his neck and, inevitably, he declared himself bankrupt in 1941. To compound his problems the US Post Office Department began investigating him for mail fraud and whilst these investigations were in train Brinkley suffered three heart attacks, had a leg amputated as a result of poor circulation and finally succumbed to heart failure, dying in San Antonio penniless.
Brinkley was quite a character. He pioneered radio advertising and was a proponent of the border blaster radio phenomenon – illegal radio stations targeting the US from other countries, usually Mexico. He also ran for governor of Kansas twice.
A truly worthy inductee for our Hall of Fame.
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