Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Prohibition in Ohio

Much interest has surrounded the topic of prohibition due to the documentary by Ken Burns that recently aired on PBS. Interestingly, the stirrings for the prohibition movement began in Ohio. The first organized push toward prohibition began with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) which was organized on December 23, 1873, in Hillsboro, Ohio. Members of the WCTU prayed outside establishments that sold alcohol and often attempted to block the entrances. Members of the WCTU included women from nearly every sector of American life, but the majority of the members came from the middle classes and all had strong ties to evangelical Protestant churches. Though the WCTU is still in existence today, its members were unable to convince the majority of the American public to embrace prohibition.

The next organized movement in favor of prohibition came with the creation of the Anti-Saloon League in 1893. In 1894, Brookfield, Ohio, native and Oberlin College graduate, Wayne Wheeler, was named as leader of the Anti-Saloon League. Wheeler was both passionate about the cause of prohibition and was a well-organized leader. Wheeler’s focus was solely on prohibition, and he effectively applied pressure on politicians to further his cause. Despite Ohio’s strong history in raising prohibition leaders, Ohio did not vote itself dry until 1918. Nonetheless, the sentiment toward going dry in Ohio was always strong, and prohibition was often decided on a local level.

Arthur L. Hoover, son of local inventor, Isaac W. Hoover, and secretary of the Hoover Manufacturing Company of Milan, Ohio, embraced the cause of prohibition. Hoover’s interest in prohibition likely was due to a number of reasons including his job and his faith. Hoover’s livelihood came from the manufacture of potato diggers and other potato-related machinery. Alcohol consumption by employees often led to accidents and decreased productivity. Hoover first became Secretary of the Erie County Vote Ohio Dry Committee and was later named Secretary for the state-wide organization. During his tenure, Hoover discovered a “Blind Tiger” in Huron. (A “blind tiger” was a low-class establishment that illegally sold alcohol. The owner would charge an entrance fee to see an attraction, such as an animal, and then would provide a complimentary drink.) The October 25, 1915 issue of the Sandusky Register reported this incident as follows: “That a “blind tiger” is openly running in Huron is the charge made by A.L. Hoover, chairman of the county temperance committee. Chairman Hoover said Sunday that he reported the matter to the county liquor license commission and asked that its members investigate. “It is a matter of common knowledge in Huron that the “blind tiger” is in operation. The beer sold is obtained from an Erie county brewery.” asserted Hoover.” Apparently, Huron did not readily embrace prohibition!

Prohibition was enacted on a national level on January 17, 1920 after the 18th Amendment to the United States constitution was ratified. After 13 years of increased crime associated with the illegal sale of liquor and no decrease in consumption, the 18th Amendment was repealed, and the freedom to legally choose whether to consume alcohol was again restored to the American people.