Wayne Wheeler

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Wayne Wheeler
Wayne Bidwell Wheeler, half-length portrait.png
Born (1869-11-10)November 10, 1869
Brookfield Township, Ohio
Died September 5, 1927(1927-09-05) (aged 57)
Little Point Sable, Michigan
Occupation Lobbyist
Known for Prohibition

Wayne Bidwell Wheeler (November 10, 1869 – September 5, 1927) was an American attorney and prohibitionist. His most famous contribution to the prohibition movement was making the Anti-Saloon League the first organized political pressure group in the United States.[1]

Early life[edit]

Wheeler was born in Brookfield Township, Ohio, to Mary Ursula Hutchinson Wheeler and Joseph Wheeler.[2] His anti-alcohol standpoint started while working on his family's farm, when he came across a drunken hired hand who was so drunk that he was unaware of what he was doing with his hayfork until it had been accidentally lodged into the leg of a young Wayne Wheeler. Having experienced this trauma at such an early age, Wheeler was able to exploit the event and turn it into effective anecdotal evidence supporting the forthcoming Anti-Saloon League.[1]


Upon graduation from high school, he taught at a school for two years before enrolling in classes at Oberlin College. He graduated from Oberlin in 1894 and shortly after accepted employment as an organizer for the recently established Anti-Saloon League. He then went on and earned a law degree from Western Reserve University in 1898 while working full time.[3][4] During his years in college, Wheeler obtained the knowledge to become a skilled debater. This newly acquired skill and education would later help him in his career path as a temperance worker. While a student he engaged in temperance work, and after graduation joined the Anti-Saloon League as a field secretary.


Early on in his career in the ASL, Wheeler developed a distinct sense of power that was known by many of his supporters and followers as Wheelerism, best described as pressure politics, a political action that relies heavily on the use of mass media and mass communications to persuade politicians that the public wants or demands a particular action. However, it commonly includes intimidation, threats, and other covert techniques as well.

These pressure politics in Wheeler's work soon began to engulf both his personal and working life. Before his marriage in 1901, Wayne Wheeler would often write heartfelt love letters to his fiancée, slipping in his strong beliefs on what was to be done with the prohibition movement. In 1902, he became superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League.

With his belief that prohibitionists should enforce laws in a strict and unsympathetic manner rather than through education of the subject, Wayne Wheeler and the ASL were able to defeat the anti-prohibitionist Ohio governor, Myron T. Herrick, when he ran for reelection in 1906.[1] That was the first significant victory of the Anti-Saloon League in American politics. Wheeler became the attorney and general counsel for the National Anti-Saloon League, a member of the executive committee and its head lobbyist. He became widely known as the "dry boss" because of his influence and power.[5]

Under Wheeler's leadership, the League focused entirely on the goal of achieving Prohibition. It organized at the grassroots level and worked extensively through churches. It supported or opposed candidates based entirely on their position regarding prohibition, completely disregarding political party affiliation or other issues. Unlike other temperance groups, the Anti-Saloon League worked with the two major parties rather than backing the smaller Prohibition Party. Wheeler developed what is now known as pressure politics, which is sometimes also called Wheelerism, according to Randolph W. Childs.

Wheeler was the de facto leader of the Anti-Saloon League and wielded considerable political power, according to Justin Steuart, his former Publicity Secretary:

"Wayne B. Wheeler controlled six congresses, dictated to two presidents of the United States, directed legislation in most of the States of the Union, picked the candidates for the more important elective state and federal offices, held the balance of power in both Republican and Democratic parties, distributed more patronage than any dozen other men, supervised a federal bureau from outside without official authority, and was recognized by friend and foe alike as the most masterful and powerful single individual in the United States."[citation needed]

Steuart claimed that Wheeler often bragged about the many deceptions used in promoting Prohibition[unreliable source?]. Wheeler is considered to have performed temperance work in a mild manner compared to other organizations. For example, the Prohibition Bureau went to the extremes of adding poison to alcoholic beverages in order to get people to stop drinking.[2]

By 1926, Wheeler was being criticized by members of Congress who were questioning the League's spending in some congressional races. At one point the Anti-Saloon League decided that the only way for people to stop drinking any alcohol drinks was to add poison to as much drinkable alcohol. Wheeler was even quoted saying "The person who drinks this industrial alcohol ...is a deliberate suicide". These sorts of views on and the severity of his opinion began to change the way the public viewed the Anti-Saloon League.[6]


Wheeler retired shortly afterwards but continued to fight for prohibition. He fought tirelessly but to little success. He died shortly thereafter in his summer home in Little Point Sable, Michigan at 57 from exhaustion and kidney failure from his endless campaign against alcohol, while attempting to regain his strength.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Wayne Wheeler". American National Biography. 
  2. ^ "Ancestry of Wayne Bidwell Wheeler". wargs.com. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Hanson David. "Wheeler, Wayne Bidwell" American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000.
  4. ^ https://www.anb.org/login.html?url=%2Farticles%2Fhome.html&ip=
  5. ^ Wheeler, Wayne Bidwell; Shaw, Elton Raymond (1924). Prohibition: Going Or Coming?: The Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act; Facts Versus Fallacies and Suggestions for the Future. Shaw Publishing Company. 
  6. ^ Hanson David. "Wheeler, Wayne Bidwell" American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000.


  • Hanson David. "Wheeler, Wayne Bidwell" American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000.

Further reading[edit]

  • Childs, Randolph W. Making Repeal Work. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Alcoholic Beverage Study, Inc., 1947.
  • Hanson, David. Wayne Bidwell Wheeler. In: Garraty, John A. and Cames, Mark C. (eds.) American National Biography. N.Y.: Praeger, 1999, vol. 23, pp. 144–145.
  • Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.
  • Hogan, Charles Marshall. Wayne Wheeler: Single Issue Exponent. Cincinnati, OH: University of Cincinnati, 1986.
  • Okrent, Daniel. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition New York: Scribner, 2010. "Prohibition Life: Politics, Loopholes And Bathtub Gin" Interview with Daniel Okrent by Terry Gross, Fresh Air on NPR, 2010-05-10. Retrieved 2010-05-10.
  • Okrent, Daniel. Wayne B. Wheeler: The Man Who Turned Off the Taps. Smithsonian Magazine, May 2010 Retrieved 2010-07-13.
  • Steuart, Justin. Wayne Wheeler, Dry Boss: An Uncensored Biography of Wayne B. Wheeler. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1928.
  • Wheeler, Wayne. How to Enforce National Prohibition. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1927.
  • Wheeler, Wayne B. Rum Rebellions: Past and Present. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., n.d.
  • Wheeler, Wayne Bidwell. Is Prohibition a Success after Five Years? Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1925. Note: The American Issue Publishing Company was the publishing house owned by the Anti-Saloon League.

External links[edit]