John R. Brinkley Papers
The papers of John R. Brinkley (1885-1942) were donated to the Manuscript Department of the Kansas State Historical Society by his widow, Mrs. Minnie Brinkley, Del Rio, Texas. Brinkley was a physician, operated a radio station, and ran for governor of Kansas several times. These materials were donated on March 15, 1977. Several additions to the collection have been made by other donors and have been noted on the materials themselves. There are no restrictions on access to the collection.
John R. Brinkley was born on July 8, 1885 in Jackson County, North Carolina. He grew up in that area and attended medical schools in Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri, before setting up a medical practice in Milford, Kansas in 1917. He had received a degree from the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University on May 7, 1915. Brinkley took the Arkansas state medical board examination and received a license to practice in Kansas because of a reciprocity agreement between the two states. In addition to his medical practice, Brinkley operated a drugstore stocked with patent medicines. Shortly after moving to Milford, Brinkley reportedly transplanted a goat testicle into a human. The operation, aimed at sexual rejuvenation, was declared a success and gained Brinkley his “goat gland doctor” reputation.
Brinkley, while practicing in Milford, decided to establish a radio station to “entertain his patients.” In 1923, he received a license for radio station KFKB, known as Kansas First, Kansas Best. Brinkley soon used KFKB to promote his medical activities and provide entertainment to his listening audience in several states, as well as the hospital. It was Brinkley’s practice of prescribing medicine over the air in response to letters from patients and listeners that created problems with the Kansas State Medical Board and the Federal Communications Commission. He had organized a state wide association of druggists and would suggest prescriptions by number, obtainable from Brinkley druggists for the various symptoms described by his radio patients.
Brinkley also became involved in Kansas politics. It is generally believed that he entered the 1930 campaign for governor of Kansas to build popular support to offset the investigation being conducted by the Kansas State Medical Board. He announced his candidacy as an independent on September 23, 1930, too late for this name to appear on the ballot. Brinkley campaigned diligently, using his radio station to instruct listeners on the write-in procedure. The race was close with numerous Brinkley votes discarded for spelling and marking errors. The final totals for 1930 were 188,278 for Brinkley and 217,171 for Harry Woodring, the Democratic victor who defeated the Republican nominee Frank Haucke by 57 votes. Brinkley also ran for governor of Kansas in1932 and 1934.
Dr. Brinkley and his family moved to Del Rio, Texas, after his license to practice medicine in Kansas and his broadcasting license had both been revoked. One of the reasons he chose Del Rio was he could operate a radio station in Villa Acuna, Mexico, that was powerful enough to be heard across the plains states. In addition to the radio station, Brinkley operate hospitals in Del Rio and Little Rock, Arkansas; owned a lumber company and a citrus grove in Texas; and speculated in oil. He was wealthy during the 1930’s, but due to income tax problems, was essentially bankrupt when he died in 1942.
The John R. Brinkley collection consists of four document boxes of papers dating from 1925 to 1976. The collection includes correspondence, business and financial records, various printed materials published to promote the Brinkley Hospitals, and a collection of tapes made from sixteen inch recordings.
The correspondence is divided into general and personal. The general division includes letters from Brinkley’s patients, letters concerning Brinkley’s campaigns for governor, correspondence with lawyers concerning their legal problems, and letters discussing the equipment to be used at the radio station in Villa Acuna. The general correspondence includes letters concerning the dispute over selling the Milford property. Brinkley was interested in astrology and the general correspondence reflects this. The personal correspondence is primarily from Brinkley to his wife, written at Christmas or on their wedding anniversary. Also included in the personal correspondence is a letter written by Brinkley to his son Johnny on the day he was born.
The business and financial materials relate to the Brinkley’s last years in Kansas and to their activities in Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas. A major part of the business material are memos exchanged by Brinkley and his Del Rio business manager, Abe Johnson. These memos indicate some of the day-to-day concerns and give some insight into Brinkley’s personality. The financial papers include materials relating to the Brinkley’s tax difficulties, inventories of property, leases, his Mexican radio license, etc. Also included in the business material are miscellaneous radio talks and letters endorsing Brinkley as a doctor that were used on the radio from 1932-1933.
The collection also includes pamphlets and brochures relating to Brinkley’s medical practice, blank stock certificates for various Brinkley companies, 1940 Del Rio petitions showing support for the Brinkleys, and even a guarantee for the prostate operation from Milford.
The collection has only a limited amount of material relating to Brinkley’s political campaigns. There is not a great deal of material on his medical practice, though what is there is valuable. The bulk of the material relates to activities in Del Rio, Texas.
The reel to reel tapes are from Del Rio with the exception of one entitled “Johnny Boy” which was from a record produced in Chicago in 1933. The rest were used as programs on XERA, with Dr. or Mrs. Brinkley or other staff members speaking.
The Kansas State Historical Society has library materials, photographs and microfilmed collections that relate to John R. Brinkley. The Gerald Carson collection, consisting of the materials he used in writing The Roguish World of Dr. Brinkley, is also housed in the Manuscript Department.
P.A.M. November 1978
Correspondence 1925-1976 and undated
Personal Correspondence 1926-1942 and undated
Political material—position paper on taxation, platform corrections
Letters of endorsement used on the radio, ca. 1932-1933
Memos—Brinkley to Del Rio business manager Abe Johnson,
1935-1938 and undated
Material relating to financial affairs—personal and business
Legal documents including a trust agreement for Johnny Boy,
leases, court transcripts, Mexican radio license
Radio stamps—campaign material
Pamphlets, brochures, etc., relating to Brinkley
Contents of notebook for Brinkley druggists
1940 Del Rio petitions supporting the Brinkleys
Reports on Brinkely’s background
Stock Certificates for various Brinkley companies
Miscellaneous materials—postcards, invitations, etc.
Miscellaneous materials—notes, fragments of letters,
fragmented radio material
Samples of stationery
Miscellaneous booklets and pamphlets
Diary kept by Marguerite Bird Osborn (Mrs. H. D.) while on
vacation aboard the Brinkley yacht
Guest Book used by Mrs. Brinkley
The following three items were donated by Judi & Herman Carlton (Access. No. 2008-366.01):
1 pamphlet: Your Health. Compliments of the Brinkley Hospital and Sanitarium, established 1917, Milford, Geary County Kansas
1 pamphlet: The Story of "Paw and Maw" Dedicated to the Prostate Man, compliments of the Brinkley Hospital and Sanitarium, Milford, Geary County, Kansas
1 form letter (typewritten): to Friend from the Brinkley Hospital, Milford, Geary County, Kansas