UDH Hdr-Mirror Lake 1888
As a pressure group, the A.S.L. sought prohibition by any means necessary. While national prohibition was its ultimate goal, it took whatever victories it could get. Until a national ban was possible, it worked for state bans. Where state bans weren’t feasible, it pressed for local and municipal bans. Always, it pressed for more. A.S.L. yearbooks featured maps of the nation illustrating the steady increase in the amount of dry territory from one year to the next.

The A.S.L. worked with or against Democrats or Republicans to further its agenda. It produced huge amounts of anti-alcohol propaganda (40 tons a month were sent out from its Westerville printing plant) to win supporters and educate the young. It built up lists of prohibition voters, monitored elected officials’ records, and  produced and disseminated voter guides. It quickly mobilized armies of dry voters to write letters to their representatives and staged effective get-out-the-vote drives. It lobbied politicians and openly threatened them if they did not hold to the prohibition line.

By 1905, it was powerful enough to topple a sitting Ohio governor and decide an election.


Right: Wet (black) and dry (white) map of Ohio from The Anti-Saloon League Yearbook, 1911.


Ohio Dry Sunday James White entered the A.S.L. as an attorney. He designed liquor control ordinances, monitored elections, battled corrupt officials, and repeatedly sued to insure enforcement of local anti-liquor laws. From 1906-14, he handled over 200 cases a year.

White’s zeal, efficiency, and effectiveness impressed the leadership. In 1915, he was rewarded by being made Superintendent of the powerful Ohio chapter of the Anti-Saloon League. The A.S.L. hailed him as “the tamer of blind tigers.” Ahead lay White’s greatest challenge and his greatest triumph: statewide prohibition.

Most of Ohio was already dry. By 1915, the A.S.L. had succeeded marvelously in shepherding local and county dry options to victory. Only the big cities—Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati, and Dayton remained wet. Statewide prohibition had twice been put before the voters and twice failed. White decided it was time for this to change.

To achieve this goal, White needed something bigger than just the A.S.L. He created a grand alliance of all Ohio anti-alcohol groups called the Ohio Dry Federation. White himself headed the federation.


Left: Program for the Ohio Dry Sunday event from the 1917 campaign. Dry Sundays were all-day events held in churches with sermons, musical performances, eminent speakers, and performances to help raise funds and get out the dry vote.

Below, right: Advertisement from the 1918 campaign comparing brewers to Kaiser Wilhelm and accusing them of undermining the war effort.

In 1917, the Federation asked Ohio voters to ban alcoholic beverages. The federation pulled out all the stops. The A.S.L. propaganda machine worked over time, blanketing the state in leaflets, brochures, and posters. The A.S.L.’s church allies preached prohibition from the pulpit. The A.S.L. get-out-the-vote operation made sure every possible prohibition voter got to the polls. Some were even brought in on stretchers. White took A.S.L. fund-raising to its highest level ever and spent an unprecedented $450,000 ($7.2 million in 2007 dollars) to vote Ohio dry.

The result was frustratingly close. Out of over a million votes cast, prohibition lost by just 1,137 votes. The anti-prohibition victory margin was one-tenth of one percent.


Ohio Dry button
1918 Ad

The Dry Federation was back in 1918. This time it had an advantage. The United States was now fully involved in World War I and there was a national hatred for all things German. With names like Hudepoehl, Schoenling, Burger, Leisy, and Hoster, not to mention Schlitz, Pabst, and Busch, brewers were viewed with suspicion. The Dry Federation capitalized on this with a campaign that linked the brewing industry to the Kaiser and accused it of undermining the war effort.

Anti-German sentiment gave the Dry Federation the push it needed. In 1918, Ohio voted for statewide prohibition by a wide margin of 25,000 votes.

November 1918 was a double victory for prohibitionists. Voters also elected a General Assembly dominated by prohibition legislators. On January 7, 1919, under the watchful eye of White and the A.S.L., Ohio became the seventeenth state to approve the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, voting for nationwide prohibition.

Ten days later, on January 29, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified and national prohibition began.