Purley Baker

Purley Albert Baker (1858-1924) was an ordained Methodist minister who became well-known in his native state of Ohio for strongly opposing alcohol and the saloon. Perhaps because of that fact, Howard Hyde Russell, the head of the Anti-Saloon League hired Purley Baker as an employee of the Ohio Anti-Saloon League. After a year Baker became superintendent of the state organization.

Baker was selected to succeed Russell as superintendent of the national Anti-Saloon League in 1903. In that role he argued that the "yeomen" of the country were natural allies in the struggle against the saloon and "need only to be reached to be won." Purley Baker also believed that the support of industrialists could be won by stressing that sober workers are reliable and efficient employees. Thus, working to bring about prohibition would be a good business investment.

In 1908, Purley Baker established the League's Industrial Relations Department under the direction of S. S. Kresge, the dime store tycoon. The League also obtained the funds to buy land and build a modern printing plant necessary for the League's new public information campaign, an important component of which was to demonize the producers of alcoholic beverages. Most brewers were German-Americans and Baker asserted that Germans "eat like gluttons and drink like swine."1

Many other temperance leaders were similarly hostile to Jews, Italians and any other group whose traditions included consuming alcoholic beverages. Not surprisingly, many temperance leaders were also members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a major supporter and defender of Prohibition.

Following a parade of the Anti-Saloon League down Pennsylvania Avenue to the steps of the US Capitol in 1913, Purley Baker presented two dry congressmen copies of a proposed eighteenth Amendment to bring about national Prohibition. He had drafted it with Wayne Wheeler, Bishop James Cannon, and other leaders of the League.

Following Purley Baker's death in 1924, a power struggle occurred. With Wayne Wheeler's help, Francis Scott McBride emerged the winner.


  • 1. Ellis, M. German-Americans in World War I. In: Fiebig-von Hase, R., and Lehmkuhl, U. (eds.) Enemy Images in American History. Oxford, England: Berghahn Books, 1997. Pp 183-208.
  • In Memorium: Purley Baker, 1858-1924. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Company, 1924.
  • Cashman, Sean D. Prohibition: the Lie of the Land. NY: Free Press and London: Collier Macmillan, 1981.
  • Chalfant, Harry M. These Agitators and Their Ideas. Nashville, TN: Cokesbury Press, 1931. Includes a section on Purley Baker
  • Kobler, John. Ardent Spirits: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1973.
  • Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Rumbarger, John J. Profits, Power, and Prohibition. Albany. NY: State University of New York Press, 1989.

By Purley Baker:

  • Purley Baker. A Statement Refuting Falsehoods and Reciting Facts. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Company, 1911.

Facts about Purley Baker

  • Purley Baker is in the lyrics of the Grateful Dead's "Wharf Rat."
  • The first house on Temperance Row in the "dry capital" of Westerville, Ohio, was owned by The Rev. Purley Baker. Temperance Row is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Purley Baker is entombed in a large crypt at the Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville, Ohio.
  • In 1930, the Westerville Public Library opened in the former home of Purley Baker.

Filed Under: Biography