The Doctor Who Got Ludicrously Rich By Implanting Goat Testicles Into People's Scrotums

Brinkley performing one of the (entirely unnecessary) operations. Image credit: Public Domain via Web Archive.

For most men, two testicles are more than enough. Should they be offered a third, their response will likely be "no thanks, I couldn't possibly," like you just offered them a large pudding after a 13-course meal. If you offered them a third testicle that previously belonged to a goat, it's likely even the most enthusiastic testicle fan would politely decline, before edging away far enough to surreptitiously call the police.

However, this has not always been the case, as the frankly ludicrous life of John R. Brinkley proves. Brinkley was born in 1885 North Carolina, and his father served as a medic for the Confederate States Army during the civil war.

From an early age, he always wanted to be a doctor. A respected one. In a time when homeopaths were seen by large sections of the public as on par with actual medics (who, to be fair, did tend to answer a lot of problems with "bleed them" at the time), Brinkley wanted to put the hard work in and train at college, choosing a course in Chicago.

This admirable work ethic lasted until his third year when he abandoned his studies, returned to North Carolina, and bought himself a degree from a dodgy diploma mill called Kansas City Eclectic Medical University.

During his training, he must have missed the course on not putting goat testicles into human scrotums, because that's the path his career was about to take. In 1918, he set up an office in the town of Milford and earned a modest income as a doctor to the local town, while his second wife (he was a bigamist, but this guy's life is honestly too weird to delve into every branch) ran a drugstore. It was here when a man entered into his life that would see it become a whole lot goatier.

The man was old and embarrassed about something. He asked Brinkley's wife if he could speak to John in private. Following some awkward chat, he came to the point: he was suffering from erectile dysfunction.

Here's where things get hazy, as the only source we have for how this conversation went down is Brinkley's own biography, and it, on this count at least, should in no way be trusted. As the tale in the biography goes, Brinkley joked "you wouldn't have any trouble if you had a pair of those buck glands in you," at which point the old man stopped and said, "well, why don't you put 'em in?"

According to the biography, the man continued to insist that Brinkley should insert a goat testicle into his scrotum until Brinkley reluctantly agreed to go along with the procedure, all the while warning him of the risks. How they actually agreed to the procedure we will likely never know, but we do know what happened next. The old man, himself a farmer, supplied a goat. In the dead of night, Brinkley cut into his scrotum and inserted the testicle – the first of many, many more. 

After the operation, Brinkley swore the man to secrecy: a tactic he likely knew would guarantee the man would tell everyone about his new addition to Team Testicle. That was the case, and (following what was likely a placebo effect) the man told everyone he knew about how the treatment had him back up and running. Soon, everyone was demanding the treatment (and Brinkley began recommending it to them). 

However, there are only so many men in a small town that you can convince to have a third goat testicle implanted, especially given that some of the men started to complain of the foul stench caused by their new addition (which was put down to them using the wrong breed of goat), and so Brinkley looked to expand. He teamed up with a marketer and publicist, who tried to spread the word. Brinkley had failed to get his work published in journals, for the reason that it was complete hokum – but the publicist tried to bypass this by going straight to the papers.

One of the less than skeptical stories in a local paper. Image credit: Library of Congress/Public Domain.

Next came the radio. Brinkley couldn't get a license to broadcast what he wanted to broadcast in the US, so he set up a station in Mexico and broadcast into the US from there. While the Journal of the American Medical Association derided Brinkley as peddling absolute nonsense, Brinkley began reaching a much larger audience with his nonsense, pushing his various quack cures, as well as his testicle surgery. With the money he was earning, he managed to expand the hospital in Milford. It had its own farm, for the goats.

It should be said that in spite of his quack medicine, he really was popular in the local community. He used his money – the part he didn't spend on a massive house and many cars – to enrich the community, bringing electricity and proper plumbing to the town of Milford. This probably goes some way towards explaining how he managed to get about 30 percent of the vote in his run for governor in 1932, losing to Alf Landon who went on to be the Republican nominee for President. Yeah, this guy lived one hell of a life.

The fun – and by "fun" we mean "implanting goat testicles into humans" – couldn't last forever. Largely because the surgery was killing people. Surgery at the time was dangerous, even when you weren't doing something so pointless and reckless. Though Brinkley claimed he was taking the goat testicle and plumbing it in (attaching nerves and blood vessels to the human host), he was merely inserting it into the scrotum and sewing the scrotum back up. He was hit with many wrongful death lawsuits and eventually went bankrupt. 

He died, penniless, while awaiting trial for a completely unrelated mail fraud.

 
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