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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.

R. Alton Lee, the author of several books including Eisenhower and Landrum-Griffin: A Study in Labor-Management Politics, taught history at the University of South Dakota for thirty years.

"In his splendid book, R. Alton Lee tells the story of a charlatan who used the radio to advertise his outrageous cures for impotence and to promote his amazing political career."—Associated Press

"Now comes Mr. Lee, a serious historian and author, who became captivated by the facts and myths of the man and has produced a very sound and captivating book."—Baltimore Sun

"Long before magnet therapy and miracle diet pills, one man in the United States invented much of the modern era of health quackery."—Bloomsbury Review

"A documented, unbiased, and thorough . . . account that suggests Brinkley wasn’t really a charlatan and quack (his medical education was somewhat better than average for his time) but was a first-rate con man. . . . A high-quality biography of a once-famous, then notorious, but now little-known figure."—Booklist

"A case can be made that Brinkley was the most important medical charlatan in our history. R. Alton Lee has given us the finest account yet of the Brinkley story."—Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Lee has written a sympathetic, balanced biography of a man who represented a not uncommon, but dying, breed of physician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."—Choice

"An informative and entertaining account of this larger-than-life character. . . . A thoroughgoing assessment of one of America's foremost twentieth-century quacks."—Great Plains Quarterly

"John Brinkley was without question one of the half dozen most irregular and deceptive medical figures of the United States during the twentieth century, even had he not also pioneered advertising over the radio and entered politics, running for the Senate from Kansas."—James H. Young

"Probably the most complete life study of the radio phenomenon of the 1930s. . . . The saga of this flawed genius is told with good humor, grudging respect, and considerable detail."—Journal of Southern History

"A good read; it offers a glimpse into a bizarre episode of the past."—Journal of the West

"Records an interesting chapter in Kansas’s history and paves the way for further scholarship on John R. Brinkley, the Kansas ‘goat gland doctor.’"—Kansas History

"Crisp, meticulous and cheerfully cynical."—Lexington Herald-Leader

"Anybody with an interest in Kansas history, or in the personalities that are a part of that history, will enjoy it."—Manhattan Mercury

"Those interested in American charlatanism will enjoy the tale of this ‘showman par excellence.’"—Publishers Weekly

"Follows Brinkley’s remarkable career from Beta (outside Sylva) to Medford, Kansas to Del Rio, Texas and beyond. It is an astonishing journey, and it answers all the ‘fact or fiction’ questions about this man who lived a life that could only occur in America."—Smoky Mountain News

"Brinkley’s medical curiosity not only led to advanced medical research but also his use of radio for campaigning changed American politics forever. This story of Dr. Brinkley’s life and times is an American epic."—St. Joseph News-Press

"No one has ever gone broke overestimating the desire of men to boost their sexual prowess. But decades before Viagra, another, less medically sound solution came sweeping across the Kansas plains: transplanted goat testicals."—U.S. News & World Report

"Lee’s fun—and shocking—biography brings back to life the brilliant and deceitful Brinkley (1885-1942), who made and lost millions of dollars in a scam claiming to restore sexual vitality by implanting the sex glands of goats into humans."—Wall Street Journal

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






John R. Brinkley, Kansas, Quacks, Quackery, Medical quackery, Radio history


United States History

The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley
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