Painless Parker (born Edgar Parker) qualified as a dentist in May 1892. Rather than qualifying by the normal route of being good at dentistry, Parker took the path of being a terrible student followed by begging the dean to pass him. Not letting his inability to do dentistry hold him back from doing dentistry, he moved to Canada to begin his craft.
At first, Parker (not yet the kind of man who would change his name to "Painless") wanted to go the ethical route, which at the time meant you would not solicit customers. Unfortunately, this resulted in him having no customers six weeks after opening. After a billboard – given to him by his first, happy customer in lieu of payment – failed to draw in patients, he changed tactic and headed on a path that would eventually lead him to putting on dental shows as though it was a traveling circus.
Parker, who was committed to offering affordable prices to the poor, hit the street corners to get more work. He began to offer extractions for 50 cents, guaranteeing patients that if they felt pain he would give them five dollars back. Of course, the secret ingredient in his plan was cocaine, which he mixed with water and called "hydrocaine", as well as every now and then just giving them a glass of whisky.
The service was popular, likely because of the unaffordability of dental work at the time. The removal, as people would discover, was far from painless.
Having gotten a taste for showmanship and money, Parker teamed up with William Beebe and set up the Parker Dental Circus, a horse-drawn medical practice with a dental chair on the coach. Traveling around with a band, contortionists, and eventually "dancing girls", he would set up what I really must stress was a dental practice in the streets. He would then ask for a volunteer from the crowds on whom he would perform an extraction.
The first patient was always a stooge, and would sit in the chair while Parker produced an extracted tooth that he had extracted beforehand. The audience – and they were said to be huge, entertainment was pretty sparse in the pre-Shrek era – would then go into the operating room for real extractions. Here's where the band would come in, because as he was about to extract a tooth, he would stamp his foot on the ground. This alerted the band that they should play louder to block out the screams. The next patient would then head in, none the wiser. In one day, he claimed to pull an impressive 357 teeth, or enough to leave 10 people gumming their way through soup for the rest of their lives.
As you'd expect from someone like this, he began to wear teeth as a necklace.
In New York, where people apparently liked nothing more than a big brass band playing loudly over their screams, he was popular. But when he took the show on the road to California, patients were less happy about the pain involved in getting their teeth yoinked. The dental profession as a whole also wasn't keen on being associated with a guy going around with dancing women and contortionists yanking out teeth like it was a show.
He set up franchises of his "painless" practice, at the same time he began to get sued constantly, and ended up losing his dental license in several states. When the authorities attempted to shut him down on the grounds of false advertising, he merely changed his first name to "Painless" and carried on pulling teeth out, to screams that couldn't be heard over a brass band.
By the time he died, he had amassed 28 offices and was earning $3 million a year.