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Wheeler, Wayne (1869-1927)

Submitted by Lois Werner, Brookfield Historical Society

Wayne Bidwell Wheeler (1869 – 1927)

Much has been written about Prohibition and the man behind the passing of the 18th Amendment. There were good reasons for the movement.  Men were heavy drinkers and women formed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). In the 1870’s women also wanted the right to vote so the two groups merged. The Populist party wanted an income tax to substitute for the loss of the liquor tax and merged with them. World War I began, there were strong anti-German feelings and the Prohibitionists emphasized that the brewers were German.   And so it began.   

Wheeler was born November 10, 1869 in Brookfield Township, the son of Joseph and Mary Ursula Wheeler and lived on the family farm on Yankee Run Road. He graduated from the close-by Sharon, Pa high school and taught school in Brookfield for two years. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1894, where he was active on the debating team. In 1898 he graduated from the Western Reserve University law school and became the attorney for the Ohio Anti-Saloon League. He later received his Doctor of Laws degree in 1917. He married Ella Candy in 1901 and they had three sons, Robert, Donald and Joseph. 

With the support of Ohio churches, the WCTU and his Anti-Saloon League, in 1904 60% of Ohio became dry. He moved to Washington, DC in 1915, and developed pressure politics called Wheelerism.  He worked hard to influence the election of 1916 and two-thirds of the elected Congress was dry. He wrote the laws  for the Volstead Act leading to the 18th Amendment that became law on January 17, 1920.  He wrote many articles and booklets against liquor’s use. By 1924 he prevented the nomination of Alfred Smith as the Democratic Presidential candidate and was able to elect a majority of dry candidates for the Congress.  His power came to an end in 1924 when government officials stopped enforcing Prohibition. 

 By 1926, Wheeler was very ill from years of 15-hour days. He died September 5, 1927, of a heart attack, a few weeks after his wife died from burns she received from a gasoline stove explosion at their vacation home in Little Point Sable, Michigan.  They are buried in Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.

The Brookfield Methodist Church burned down in 1928 and when the new church was erected in 1929 on the village green, it was named the Wayne Wheeler Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.  Prohibition ended December 5, 1933.