Wayne Wheeler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Wayne Wheeler
Wayne Bidwell Wheeler, half-length portrait.png
Harris & Ewing collection, Library of Congress
Born (1869-11-10)November 10, 1869
Brookfield Township, Trumbull County, Ohio
Died September 5, 1927(1927-09-05) (aged 57)
Battle Creek, Michigan
Education Oberlin College
Western Reserve University
Occupation Teacher
Political organizer
Known for Prohibition advocate
Political party Republican[1][2][3][4]
Spouse(s) Ella Belle Candy (m. 1901-1927, her death)
Children 3

Wayne Bidwell Wheeler (November 10, 1869 – September 5, 1927) was an American attorney and prohibitionist. He was the longtime leader of the Anti-Saloon League, and played a major role in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages..[5]

A native of Brookfield Township in Trumbull County, Ohio, Wheeler was raised on his family's farm, and a childhood accident caused by an intoxicated hired hand gave Wheeler a lifelong aversion to alcohol, as well as an anecdote he later used in recruiting converts to the prohibition movement and promoting a prohibition amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Wheeler graduated from high school in Ohio, received his teaching qualification, and taught for two years before becoming a student at Oberlin College. After graduating in 1894, Wheeler became an organizer for the Anti-Saloon League. He earned his LL.B. degree from Western Reserve University in 1898. In 1902, Wheeler became head of the Anti-Saloon League, and perfected a system of single issue pressure politics, including media campaigns and public demonstrations, to win enactment of laws limiting or banning the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Wheeler's career hit its high point with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act in 1920. As enforcement of Prohibition became increasingly difficult, federal agencies resorted to draconian measures including poisoning alcohol to try to dissuade people from consuming it. Wheeler's refusal to compromise, for example by amending Prohibition measures to allow for consumption of beer and ale, made him appear increasingly unreasonable. His influence began to wane, and he retired in 1927.

Soon after his retirement, Wheeler was beset by several tragedies. His wife was killed in an accidental kitchen fire, and his father-in-law had a fatal heart attack on being told of her death. Wheeler suffered from kidney disease, and died at a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan on September 5, 1927.

Early life[edit]

Wheeler was born in Brookfield Township, Trumbull County, Ohio, to Mary Ursula Hutchinson Wheeler and Joseph Wheeler.[6] His anti-alcohol stance started while working on his family's farm, when he came across an intoxicated 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.[5]


Upon graduation from high school, he taught at a school for two years before enrolling in classes at Oberlin College in 1890. Upon arriving at Oberlin with very little money, Wheeler demonstrated his ability to work hard. In order to help fund his education at Oberlin and support himself financially, he worked as a waiter, a janitor for his dormitory, a teacher during summer vacation, and a salesman.[7]

It was in the janitorial closet at Oberlin where Howard Hyde Russell first offered Wheeler a position in the Anti-Saloon League. Hyde offered Wheeler a job because he saw "a loving, spririted self-sacrificing soul who yearns to help the other fellow."[8] After graduating from Oberlin in 1894, Wheeler accepted Hyde's job offer as an organizer for the recently established Anti-Saloon League.

He earned a law degree from Western Reserve University in 1898 while working full-time.[9][10] 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. It commonly includes intimidation, threats, and other covert techniques as well.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

Under Wheeler's leadership, the League focused entirely on the goal of achieving Prohibition. Unlike Francis Willards's Women's Christian Temperance Union, which dealt with many humanitarian issues, Wheeler felt that the only way to successfully challenge the political influence of the brewers was to focus purely on achieving national prohibition by any means necessary.[14] Wheeler was able to elect politicians by encouraging the drys of both political parties to vote for a single candidate who supported the dry cause, regardless of the party the candidate was affiliated with. In essence, 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. By rallying dry voters of both parties to vote for the candidate who showed the greatest devotion to the dry cause, Wheeler was able to persuade many drys who were loyal to a certain party to vote for the opposite party's candidate if necessary. This strategy was extremely successful and put pressure on many candidates to support the ASL or face defeat come election time.

Wheeler and the ASL gained a lot of support by creating loose alliances with groups who shared a common anti-alcohol sentiment if oftentimes nothing else. This idea of supporting and/or avoiding conflict with groups that generally consisted of drys came to be known as the "Ohio Idea".[15] Wheeler considered racists, nativists, progressives, suffragists and populists to be a part of this Ohio Idea. Wheeler especially supported suffragists. He and the ASL knew that most women in the early twentieth century supported the idea of prohibition. If given the right to vote he saw them as being the key to enacting Prohibition and increasing the political influence of the ASL. Wheeler's Ohio Idea, much like the use of pressure politics, was a key component to the success of the ASL and the Prohibition movement as a whole.

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.[16]

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.[17]

By 1926, Wheeler was being criticized by members of the U.S. 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 after bad alcohol killed at least 50,000 people.[9]


Wheeler retired shortly afterwards but continued to fight for prohibition. He fought tirelessly but to little success. On August 14, 1927, shortly after removing himself from the busy life he led with the ASL, Wheeler's wife was burned to death in a cooking accident at his house in Little Point Sable, and her father suffered a fatal heart attack upon viewing the incident. Just two weeks after losing his wife and father-in-law, Wayne Wheeler died at age 57 of kidney disease while seeking treatment at a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan.[18] He was buried at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.[19]


Wayne Wheeler is not widely known today; however, many who are very familiar with Prohibition regard him as playing one of the most important roles in the creation of the 18th Amendment. His use of pressure politics, his expertise in rallying the dry base, and the sheer amount of time and effort he contributed to the ASL were the key staples in the success of the ASL, and the Prohibition movement as a whole. "Without Wayne B. Wheeler's generalship it is more than likely we should never have had the Eighteenth Amendment."[14]


  1. ^ Slavicek, Louise C. (2009). The Prohibition Era. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438104379. 
  2. ^ Gold, David M. (2009). Democracy in Session: A History of the Ohio General Assembly. Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780821418444. 
  3. ^ Murray, Robert K. (1976). The 103rd Ballot: Democrats and the Disaster in Madison Square Garden. Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060131241. 
  4. ^ The Wine and Spirit Bulletin, Volume 29. Bulletin Publishing Company. 1915. 
  5. ^ a b "Wayne Wheeler". American National Biography. 
  6. ^ "Ancestry of Wayne Bidwell Wheeler". wargs.com. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Okrent, Daniel. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2010), 38
  8. ^ Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. 38-39
  9. ^ a b Hanson David. "Wheeler, Wayne Bidwell" American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000.
  10. ^ https://www.anb.org/login.html?url=%2Farticles%2Fhome.html&ip=
  11. ^ (This paragraph needs multiple citations to substantiate its assertions; Wheeler may have indeed used covert and other strong-arm techniques, but without any corroborative evidence, this paragraphs degenerates into little more than one dyspeptic man's polemic.
  12. ^ http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00750.html
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ a b Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 36
  15. ^ Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 42
  16. ^ Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 41
  17. ^ https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/media_detail/2082716385-wheeler
  18. ^ Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, 294
  19. ^ Associated Press (September 9, 1927). "Wayne Wheeler is Laid to Rest". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. p. 3. 


  • Hanson David. "Wheeler, Wayne Bidwell" American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000.
  • Okrent, Daniel. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York, NY:Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2010.
  • Anti-Saloon League. The Brewers and Texas Politics. Vols. 1 and 2. San Antonio: Passing Show Printing, 1916.
  • _______. Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Convention of the Anti-Saloon League of America. Westerville, OH: 1913.
  • Steuart, Justin. Wayne Wheeler, Dry Boss. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1971.
  • 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.

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]