Gratuitous Historical Timeline Department
on the brinkley: his lifetime and timeline
The more I researched the tragicomic life of America’s most legendary forgotten medical-media celebrity, the more obsessed I became — not only with Brinkley, but with what Greil Marcus called the “Old Weird America;” the hoary early-20th-century sideshow of catastrophic financial ruin, medical oddities (and neuroses), lingering rustic folkways and Jim Crow attitudes, dire global politics, and bewildering developments in mass culture…huh. Sounds familiar. Back then, though, everybody wore hats. Check out this timeline I made of the Great American Hat Period, and how it corresponds with the fabled lifespan of one John Romulus Brinkley, non-MD.
1885-1888 John Romulus Brinkley born in North Carolina (some accounts claim Tennessee)
1889 Noted French physiologist/neurologist Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard, a professor at Harvard University and the Collége de France and one of the first researchers to correctly ascertain the anatomy and functions of the spinal cord, announces that he has “rejuvenated” his sexual function by injecting himself with a solution derived from the crushed testicles of dogs and guinea pigs. While Brown-Séquard scandalizes the medical establishment, he also prompts subsequent research on sex hormones.
1893 Chicago World’s Fair introduces Americans to electrical power, Cracker Jack, (arguably) the hamburger, the Ferris Wheel, and Ragtime. Also that year, Nikola Tesla delivers "On Light and Other High Frequency Phenomena" before the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, describing the possibility of voice transmission.
1894 British Physicist Oliver Lodge transmits radio signals at an Oxford University demonstration. Later that same year, Indian physicist Jagdish Chandra Bose demonstrates transmission of sound through radio waves in Calcutta.
1902 Italian-Irish inventor Marchese Gugielmo Marconi sends a message of greetings from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII via trans-Atlantic radiotelegraph.
c. 1904 John Romulus Brinkley moves to New York to become a Western Union telegrapher.
1907 Brinkley marries his first wife. Their daughter, Wanda, is born, and Brinkley enrolls in diploma mill Bennett Electrical Medical College. He never finishes, though, eventually garnering a semi-spurious degree from a diploma mill, “Eclectic Medical University.”
1913 The first Mrs. Brinkley leaves him for good, taking their three daughters back to North Carolina. Brinkley then marries Minerva “Minnie” Jones, daughter of a Tennessee country doctor.
1918 The Brinkleys open a small clinic in Milford, Kansas, where they treat victims of the 1918 flu epidemic, among others. Soon thereafter, Dr. Brinkley performs his first goat gland transplant into the scrotum of a local childless farmer. His first patient forthwith (and surely coincidentally) fathers a baby boy, who is called, of course, “Billy.”
1922 Dr. Brinkley tours Los Angeles, where he hopes to establish a beachhead for his goat-gland clinic, as the publisher of the Los Angeles Times and various Hollywood stars are keenly interested. However, the state of California refuses to recognize Brinkley’s license to practice medicine. Brinkley becomes, however, intrigued by the possibilities of radio, having toured a station in L.A.
1923 Brinkley builds KFKB, Kansas’ 1st radio station, and uses it to speak hours on end on-air to promulgate his various medical business enterprises; the goat-gland surgery, patent medicines, and his clinic.
1930 Kansas medical board brings Brinkley up on formal charges to determine whether his medical license should be revoked. Also, the Federal Radio Commission declines to renew his radio license.
1920s-1930s Dr. Serge Voronoff, also of France, performs numerous grafitng of monkey glands into human patients, the practice becoming such a media sensation that contemporary writers e e cummings, George Bernard Shaw, Irving Berlin, and William Faulkner all write about it. Pablo Picasso was rumored to be a patient.
1929 The Great Wall Street Crash of 1929 precipitates the Great Depression.
1930 Brinkley runs for Governor of Kansas on a populist/ Republican platform (which includes, incidentally, universal healthcare and education), and loses.
1932 Brinkley runs for Governor of Kansas again, as an Independent, and loses again.
Brinkleys, able to obtain radio transmission licenses from Mexico, relocates to
Del Rio. They found XER, a
border-blaster” radio station powered by unprecedented 300-foot, 75-kilowatt station at 840 kilohertz.
1930s-40s The Brinkley empire grows precipitously, despite fairly substantiatable rumors of Nazi sympathizing and medical quackery.
1939 Brinkley’s attempt to sue Morris Fishbein and the Journal of the American Medical Association for libel is found for the defendant, thus legitimizing the MA’s claims of quackery against Brinkley.
April 1941 Mexican government agrees to crack down on “Border Blasters,” further hurting the Brinkley empire.
December 1941 The attack on Pearl Harbor ensures American entry into WWII, rendering Brinkley’s nebulous political affiliations all the more questionable, and further hurting his reputation.
May 1942 Dr. Brinkley dies in San Antonio.