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Wayne Wheeler and Prohibition: Event Today

On March 12, 2013, a New York State judge ruled in favor of the soft drink industry by temporarily halting attempts by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s to ban the sale of large amounts of soda (or pop as it is called in some regions of the country) from being sold at venues throughout the city. In what is viewed as an alarming increase in obesity among its citizens, the mayor believes that the elimination of the sale of these drinks in large quantities will assist in those efforts. Joining the soft drink industry are members of organizations that represent the interests of minority groups who believe that the attempted ban represents, according to a recent New York Times article, “…the greatest regulatory threat the soft-drink industry has ever faced…are discriminatory, paternalistic or ineffective”. (NYT, March 13, 2013: Minority Groups and Bottlers Team Up in Battles Over Soda).

This situation is reminiscent of another battle that took place over 80 years ago, waged by an 1898 graduate of the law school who is to be the subject of an event presented by the Judge Ben C. Green Law Library today at 4pm. Just as Mayor Bloomberg views the consumption of large quantities of fructose-based beverages as the cause of what many believe to be an epidemic of obesity in the United States, Wayne Bidwell Wheeler believed that the consumption of alcohol and other intoxicating beverages represented a danger to the physical health, industrial productivity, and moral fiber of the country. Wheeler, the seemingly indomitable head of the Anti-Saloon League, an organization for which he began to work earnestly while a student at the Franklin Thomas Backus School of Law at Western Reserve University (now CWRU), transformed a locally-based, female-dominated organization into a national political “pressure group” (a term he created) that influenced local, state, and national elections. Wheeler’s personal experiences with the destructive effects of alcoholism (his mother and sister were physically attacked by a drunken neighbor, and he was separately attacked and injured as a teenager by an intoxicated stranger) served as the spark that ignited an unrelenting passion to rid the country and the world of liquor and to institute legal penalties for its manufacture, sale and consumption.

Though the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933 by the 21st Amendment, it remains the lasting historical legacy of Wayne Wheeler. Prohibition contributed critically to the culture and flavor of the 1920s and 1930s and was directly tied to the rise of the speakeasy, a profitable and violent bootlegging industry, as well as legendary figures of mobster Al Capone and the “untouchable” Eliot Ness. Learn how the passion and determination of one individual—a graduate of this Law School—affected the relationship between the federal government and its citizens and how a local advocacy group was transformed into a national advocacy juggernaut that permanently altered the political, social and legal landscape. Mr. Wheeler is waiting for you; come and hear his story.