Let's pasture the goats on the State House lawn!
December 16, 2010 6:43 AM   Subscribe

His radio station was shut down. His medical license was revoked. So he ran for Governor. (Time, 1932), and almost won. Twice. "Dr". John R. Brinkley, the goat gland doctor, (previously on Metafilter) had six weeks. He also had a plane, a huckster's skills, a staff skilled in promotion, and lots of chutzpah.

Kansas in the 1930s was hit hard by the Great Depression and the Dustbowl, and the mainstream parties got a judge to say that only one correct spelling ("John R. Brinkley" Not Doc Brinkley. Not J. R. Brinkley. Not Brinkly.) would be accepted on write-in votes. He lost by only 30,000 votes. When he was actually on the ballot 2 years later, he lost by a similar margin. Meanwhile, he set up the first Border Blaster radio station on the Mexican border and introduced a big chunk of the United States to everyone from the Carter Family to Wolfman Jack. Oh, and beamed a steady stream of dubious medical advice, self-aggrandizing sermons and lectures, rants about the AMA and FCC, and even prescribed medicine over the air.

This Goat Glands and Sunshine 1931 Time profile outlines his strong grasp on public relations and spin, of salesmanship and the magic of new technology. Kansas Memory has a wonderful collection of his brochures, advertisements, photographs (including that of Ammunition #1 and the plane he barnstormed the state with), and even a few sermons and lectures in mp3 form.
posted by julen (10 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
John Brinkley's story is fascinating, not just for himself but also because he more or less gave the AMA the ammunition it needed to rise to prominence. If you haven't read Charlatan by Pope Brock, featuring the story of the feud between Brinkley and JAMA's Morris Fishbein, it's well worth your time.
posted by mightygodking at 6:47 AM on December 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I first heard of John Brinkley through this episode of the Memory Palace podcast. It's a fascinating story.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 6:53 AM on December 16, 2010

this was before he met chet huntley?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:54 AM on December 16, 2010

Growing up in Salina, I read about Brinkley's exploits in middle school. My reaction then, as it is now, is "This sounds like something the locals would fall for."
posted by hellojed at 8:05 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

The medical establishment held that a recipient’s immune system would either encapsulate or entirely reject animal glands.

What exactly does happen?
posted by amicamentis at 10:55 AM on December 16, 2010

Seconding the recommendation of Charlatan by Pope Brock. I had researched Brinkley and loved the book; my Largely Mythological Husband had never heard of him and loved the book.

What does happen when people have animal gland transplants is that the human immune system either encapsulates or rejects the animal glands. Of course, Brinkley was doing this in an incredibly crude way, often just embedding wodges of animal glands in people's thighs or what have you, but even today we haven't figured out how to sustain xenotransplants very effectively. The NIH did a quite good publication for schools about this a while back.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2010

Great link, thanks! I wonder what kind of effects Brinkley's patients experienced, and if they were too embarrassed to report them because of the nature of the operation.
posted by amicamentis at 6:40 AM on December 17, 2010

Apparently, some people weren't effected negatively (one of the pictures is of a man who had the operation early on in his Kansas stint, got his wife pregnant, and had kids. Brinkley dined out on that PR for years), but lots of people died, got very very ill (in ways different from whatever ills they were trying to cure), or generally did worse than No Effect. In the Charlatan book (which inspired me to dig up pictures and try to find contemporary news accounts), he even describes a woman who sent her husband to Brinkley in the hopes that the husband would get sick and die and she could get his estate all to herself.

Of course, if you want to read a lot of hokum from the Brinkley perspective, he wrote a book.

The other interesting thing I found that didn't quite fit into the post was this teaser for an upcoming documentary.
posted by julen at 7:00 AM on December 17, 2010

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of all of the people that claimed miraculous results from this transplant into several catagories:

1. Those who physically benefited from the goat glands
2. Those who psychologically benefited from the placebo effect of the goat gland operation
3. Those who had no benefit but claimed to in order to avoid the shame of having to admit still having whatever malady plagued them in the first place.
4. Those that may have been paid off by Brinkley.

Animal transplants are fascinating.
posted by amicamentis at 7:50 AM on December 17, 2010

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