Traces of the Anti-Saloon League

Ever heard of the Anti-Saloon League?

I passed this sign on Jones Street in San Francisco one day and took a photo of it.

A major force in American politics until Prohibition was repealed back in the 1930s, the Anti-Saloon League was instrumental in building support for temperance.

The organization started in 1893 in Ohio, and soon fanned out across the U.S. Initial efforts were focused on shutting down saloons. The leaders of the movement reasoned that if alcohol was not readily available, Americans would find a more wholesome way to entertain themselves. Over time, this idea gave way to a new conclusion that people were unaware of the evils of alcohol and the real need was educational.

The Anti-Saloon League led a major effort that included persuasion, propaganda, lobbying, and social pressure, all designed to discourage drinking alcohol. There were years of public campaigns to tie consumption of alcohol to insanity, unemployment, crime, and mortality.

These moral crusaders were prolific! In addition to speeches and parades, the League published songs, dramas, magazines, and more. The following images are from the Anti-Saloon Museum, which is housed in Westerville Library in Westerville, Ohio.

The first two images have very noticeable marital discord themes:

image from Anti-Saloon League

image from Anti-Saloon League

image from Anti-Saloon League

Eventually, the Anti-Saloon League determined that their success would always be limited, as long as alcohol was legal. They became focused on putting temperance-minded politicians in office.

In 1919, the long-term efforts of the League finally paid off: the 18th Amendment – Prohibition – was ratified. The manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcohol was banned in the United States.


The 18th amendment did not enjoy broad popularity.

Ironically, the ban of alcohol seemed to multiply the risks it was supposed to end. It introduced new health perils, and many people were killed by the poisonous products of illicit distilleries. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend the documentary American Experience: The Poisoner’s Handbook, which explains how poisonous alcohol became such a public menace during this time, resulting in blindness, insanity, and death.


In addition, the claim made by temperance advocates that the ban on alcohol would decimate the criminal underworld could not have been further from the truth. It may not have created the criminal underworld but it certainly added a new dimension to it.

With all the unanticipated drawbacks to the 18th amendment, support for the bill dwindled, until it was seemingly limited to temperance advocates and those who profited in some way from the illegal sale of alcohol, like bootleggers. Politics does make strange bedfellows!

Ultimately, major social changes like women’s suffrage, the Teapot Dome scandal, and the stock market crash were too much for temperance organizations like the Anti-Saloon League to withstand. They rapidly lost power and influence, culminating with the passage of 21st amendment that officially repealed Prohibition, after nearly 15 years. The 18th amendment became the only amendment ever to be repealed from the U.S. Constitution.

The sign lives on in San Francisco. The building once occupied by the Anti-Saloon League is not only standing but nicely preserved. The city has a great respect for the past, but it also has a sense of humor: the Anti-Saloon League building is now occupied by Bourbon & Branch, which is described as a “swanky, dimly lit unmarked bar known for handcrafted cocktails.”

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