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The Ohio Dry Campaign of 1918

The successor organization to the Ohio Anti-Saloon League, the Ohio Council on Alcohol Problems, lent Professor John C. Burnham a set of campaign broadsides from the Ohio prohibition referendum campaign of 1918. Austin Kerr made Xerox copies of these materials, and, with the help of Liyan Liu, they are now scanned and ready for use in teaching and other multi-media applications. So far as we know, these items were never copyrighted; in any case, their age indicates that they are in the public domain. We will appreciate persons using these materials to note that they are "Courtesy of The Ohio State University Department of History."

Ohio was a very closely contested state in the national campaign to eradicate the liquor traffic by declaring illegal the businesses of manufacturing, distributing, and selling alcoholic beverages. Ohio was the birthplace of both the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (1874) and the Anti-Saloon League (1893). The WCTU brought a special zeal to the prohibition effort in the 1880s, failing to achieve state-wide dry legislation but disturbing Ohio political life nevertheless. The Anti-Saloon League later (and with the help of the WCTU) promoted the issue in a non-partisan manner, pressuring politicians to enact dry legislation. The League and its allies were successful in achieving various local option measures (laws that allowed voters of a ward or a township to declare themselves free of the liquor traffic) and, in 1908, in achieving a law that granted counties the authority to outlaw the liquor traffic.

Although prohibition was a popular reform in the state, the issue deeply divided Ohioans. In 1909, witnessing the success of the League in achieving county option legislation, and fearing that it might achieve state-wide prohibition, the brewers organized a counter-attack. Beer had become the largest single source of beverage alcohol in the United States during the 1880s, and the brewing industry was the most profitable of the liquor trades. Persons of German ancestry dominated the American brewing industry, and they worked closely with the German-American Alliance, an organization popular in German-American communities. The brewers had always supplied lobbyists and campaign funds to thwart the prohibitionists. In 1909 the Ohio brewers decided to try to reform their industry, to reduce the number of saloons in the state dramatically, and to have legislation enacted that would ensure that saloon keepers were citizens of "good character." Led by Percy Andreae, the Ohio brewers used their ample financial resources and political skills to conduct a propaganda campaign to countervail that of the drys, and to mobilize wets in support of measures that would weaken the dry hold in the state's politics.

The result was that after 1910 the Anti-Saloon League encountered stiff opposition in the state's legislature. The drys could, however, try to achieve state-wide prohibition through the referendum. The Ohio Constitution permitted citizens to petition to have amendments placed on the ballot for decision directly by the voters. In campaigning for state-wide prohibition through the referendum, League leaders knew they could count on only about 400,000 voters (of a total well over 1,000,000) to support prohibition. Nevertheless, the League leaders believed they had little choice but to push referendum campaigns if they were going to achieve state-wide prohibition in Ohio. Although the brewers and their wet allies could outspend the drys, the drys hoped to make up the deficit through the righteousness of their cause and the resulting reform zeal. After about 1910 public opinion across the nation seemed to be turning in favor of prohibition. The League believed that conducting referendum campaigns in Ohio would educate the public futher to the virtues of prohibition.

The League engineered referendums in 1915 and 1917, which it lost. The League was finally victorious in 1918, narrowly winning a state-wide victory. In 1917 and 1918, James A. White, the Superintendent of the Ohio Anti-Saloon League, organized an "Ohio Dry Federation" to mobilize all of the state's temperance and prohibition groups, including the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. In 1917 the Federation budgeted $450,000 for the campaign, and in 1918, $500,000, enormous sums for the day. The advertisements that you will see were part of that expenditure.

The broadsides that we are providing were apparently intended for publication in the state's newspapers. Many of them contain patriotic references to the mobilization for the First World War. Although nationally political sentiment had clearly developed in support of a prohibition amendment to the federal constitution before the United States declared war in 1917, the Ohio Dry Federation propagandists were looking for every advantage to win over a majority of the state's voters.

Persons interested in more details of this story may wish to consult Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) by K. Austin Kerr.

We invite you to look at our campaign broadsides.

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