George Gallup’s Early Life and Influences


George Gallup’s forbearers, after arriving in America in 1630, lived for eight generations in Stonington, CT. It was Gallup’s grandfather, John Gallup, who moved from Voluntown, which is near Stonington, to Mendota, Illinois where he joined the Northern Army, and then after the Civil War, came eventually to the town of Jefferson, Iowa.  He had heard the wonderful stories about the free and fertile land in Iowa that was available that could be homesteaded or bought for a very few dollars per acre, so he moved his family on to Jefferson.

The first year in Greene County, John and his wife, Happy Kinnie (Ted’s grandparents), lived on a farm belonging to a man called George Eagleson, on the outskirts of the newly-incorporated community of New Jefferson. The following year, in 1880, they moved to their own farm in nearby Hardin Township. Here they stayed for 12 years. Then, in 1892, after their three sons had become adults, and taken up their life’s work, John and Happy Gallup moved to a farm close to Jefferson.

Edgar, the oldest son, owned and ran a prosperous grocery store (Gallup’s Grocery Store) in Jefferson (where Ted Gallup worked during vacations.) Joseph became a lawyer, while George, the youngest, taught school (he was Principal of what was called “Gallup’s school) and then became co-proprietor of the Jefferson Carriage Works, described in Iowa Illustrated in 1896 as “one of the most extensive business concerns in the city.” The article also notes: “the proprietors, Messers. George H. Gallup and Wm. H. Burk are two wide awake gentlemen who have by their honorable business methods and strict attention to the wants of their patrons, built up a very extensive trade. They handle a large stock of buggies, carriages, surreys, road cars, spring wagons and bicycles.

Ted’s father was a well-read and scholarly man, constantly wrestling with new ideas and concepts. He was fascinated by the workings of the mind, and persistently worked on one main idea all his life – a system of logic, that presaged much of what was done later in this field.

George Henry Gallup was a realtor and land investor with his real estate ventures extending far and wide – from Jefferson to Montana, where he once purchased no less than four square miles of land near Big Timber. He also owned land in Kit Carson, Colorado. His holdings in Jefferson included two large buildings on the town square, one the Lincoln Hotel, the other a building which housed his real estate offices. Another of Gallup’s projects was “Sunnyside Acres,” a section of Jefferson which he divided into lots.

George Henry Gallup was, in fact, one of the foremost town-builders. Those who enjoy Russell Park with its towering maples can thank George Gallup’s efforts of a century ago. And there are certain streets in Jefferson that are lined with trees planted by the two Gallup boys – Ted and his older brother, John. (There were four Gallup children, Edna, the oldest, followed by Gladys, John and then Ted.)

George Henry Gallup not only brought beauty to the community, but culture as well. He was instrumental in raising the funds to build the Carnegie Library and to acquire land for the Chautauqua Circuit lectures which came to Jefferson for many years in the early part of the century.

One of Gallup’s pet projects, however, came to naught. When the community was considering building a new courthouse in the middle of the town square, Mr. Gallup pleaded for a structure which would preserve the trees and not overshadow the other buildings on the square. He fought hard for his plan – four small buildings, connected by colonnades – but it was too advanced a concept for the town fathers and he lost his case.

In keeping with his constant desire to try something new, the senior Gallup, in setting out an orchard on his property, removed all the top soil so that the trees would grown in the underlying lay and grow more slowly, on the theory that a tree that matures more slowly will bear more fruit. He also developed a scheme by which, not only to get more fruit, but also to have fewer limbs on trees – the dwarf tree concept.

Gallup also proposed that silos be built into the ground instead of sticking above the ground, thus causing less spoilage and being easier to drain. Furthermore, in one of his many pamphlets he propounded a new way of selling groceries – through boxes kept in homes which would be replenished by the deliveryman when a certain staple was exhausted.

Ted’s father was vitally interested in the education and character development of his children. He built a library in their house which was stocked with more than 1,000 books, so there was no need to go to the local library, although the library was regarded as excellent.

The senior Gallup, in a major way, helped to develop Jefferson both physically and culturally — a community he revered, as seen in a promotional pamphlet he distributed in 1903, with an accompanying map. Announcing that he had 100 farms for sale in Greene County, he wrote enthusiastically:

Nearly every farm has a grove on it, which gives a pleasing, home-like look, the improvements are generally good, consisting of a farm house, barn, granaries, and corn cribs, stock sheds, and other small buildings. All the farms are fenced and cross-fenced, and most of the low land is tile drained.

Jefferson, the county seat, is situated in the center of the county, at the crossing of the Northwestern and Milwaukee roads. This is the prettiest town to be found in Iowa. It has a population of over 3,000 and is filled up with retired farmers who have become independently rich farming Greene County land. It has fine schools and churches of all leading denominations.

Growing up in the Gallup House

The Gallup homestead was the mecca for the boys of the town and the lawns were crawling with young humanity on sunny days. On rainy days, a constant stream of children paraded through the house and ran up and down the stairs.

George and Nettie Gallup encouraged the interest of boys in sports. In fact, the Gallup homestead was the unofficial sports arena and recreation center for the town. Gymnastic rings were hung on the Charter Oak, and a basketball hoop on the barn. George, Sr. even went so far as to import the eastern game of tennis and built a grass court on his property. He also laid out a nine-hole golf course on his 12-acre land.

George Gallup was called “Ted” from the first days of his life. Elsie White, the Gallups’ white-haired nurse was prone to playing pranks, and knew that Gallup’s father was no admirer of Teddy Roosevelt, who had been recently elected, so she nicknamed the child “Teddy.” However, there were likely other reasons – to avoid the confusion of having two Georges in the house; because “George” sounded too grown-up for a baby; or simply because Elsie White, as well as Nettie, Ted’s mother, simply liked the name “Teddy.”

Of Ted Gallup’s first two years on earth, little of any moment is recorded, save for the observation of his aunt Julia, who seeing that her nephew never cried, concluded that he was “not too bright.”

Ted Gallup was deeply influenced by his parents. His mother, Nettie, was a small, dynamic, deeply religious woman. She loved animals, and it was a sad day for her when her pet snake was killed. She was a true FDR Democrat. She was incurably optimistic; Ted himself noted that his mother never failed to start the day by saying something cheerful, even if the day was gloomy and fraught with problems.

Nettie Gallup lived in nearby Eureka Mills, and married George Henry Gallup when she was 27 years old. Her quiet and kind manner did much to set the tone of her home and the character of her children. She helped her children understand the importance of being happy, of working hard, of being scrupulously honest. All of her four children graduated from college, an accomplishment that made her particularly proud.

Dr. Gallup’s father, George Henry Gallup, was somewhat withdrawn from the mainstream of life, but he was well-liked. Dr. Gallup described his father as a “true intellectual.” He was not simply a scholarly or well-read man – he was a man fascinated with the world of ideas. In the fall 1993 issue of The Palimpsest magazine, Gallup said that his father taught him “a profound questioning of the status quo.” He recalled that his father resisted strenuously doing things the way they had always been done.”

Ted’s father and mother encouraged independence and self-sufficiency on the part of their offspring. At the very early age of eight or nine, Ted and his brother John, who was a year older, had their own dairy business, consisting of a barn (no longer standing), a dozen cows, and a milk route.

Ted’s hometown provided a number of advantages that seemed to destine him for achievement, in addition to the powerful influence of his parents. Jefferson had an ethos that promoted success among its young people. Residents place top priority on a good education. In fact, Jefferson High School is distinguished for having turned out a disproportionately large number of famous and important people. Within a few blocks of Ted’s home on Chestnut Street lived three contemporaries who were to become big men in the field of journalism – Ken McDonald and Earl Hall, renowned newspaper editors, and one of the nation’s top-flight cartoonists, Harold Carlyle.

Ted Gallup was a big wheel on campus at Jefferson High School. He captained both the football and basketball teams, was an excellent student, and served as president of his senior class. He was well-liked and good-natured. He was not at all above playing pranks – in fact, the Principal of the school characterized him as a candidate for class clown.

Whitfield Wilcox, a classmate at Jefferson High School, provides this portrait of George Gallup as a youngster:

I first met Ted when he was in the 7th grade. I was a shy boy fresh from the farm when I moved to Jefferson in the spring of 1914. I was put in Ted’s grade along with a number of other boys who lived on the South side of Jefferson such as Lyle Raver, Russell Barker, Ted McDuffy and Dale Harding. We would generally go to and from school together. Since the sidewalk led to our place, it was quite natural that I should go with them.

Ted at that time was rather heavy set, not fat, but on the plump side, always quite jolly, very friendly. Since I was really a country bumpkin, I was the butt of many of the wisecracks, and was teased and tormented by the other boys. Ted always treated me real well, and I suppose for that reason he was my closest friend all through school.

Ted idealized his father, but it was his mother who helped him the most. His father gave him the ideas and thought on being somebody, but it was his mother that gave him the ability to do his best with what he had.

I never saw Ted abuse a dumb animal. He would get quite aggravated at the cows sometimes, but I never saw him strike of abuse them, and, of course, his dog, Red, was his prize possession. Ted liked people and thought well of them, and in turn was liked by all his customers (from his milk route) and all of his teachers.

When Ted went off to Iowa University in 1919, his parents moved briefly to another area of Jefferson and lived in a smaller and less imposing house. Ted’s father had gone bankrupt with the drop in farm prices following World War I and the Gallup family had fallen on hard times. They left Jefferson in 1924, to live in Seattle, Washington. George Henry Gallup died in 1930; Nettie died in 1953.

The Jefferson Influence on Gallup’s Populist Views

The community of Jefferson was clearly a profound shaper of George Gallup’s values. His environment also played a role in Gallup’s “populist” views. Jefferson, Iowa embodied many of the Jeffersonian populist virtues – small, non-industrialized, composed of self-reliant, educated and politically involved citizens.

In speech after speech over the years Gallup presented a populist perspective, citing his faith in the people to make good decisions. His views were reinforced by surveys that showed the public to be ahead of its legislative leaders on scores of topics.

But Gallup worried constantly about the lack of basic knowledge among the populace on vital issues, and would have agreed wholeheartedly with Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that “a democracy cannot be both ignorant and free.”

At the center of democracy, Gallup believed, stands the educated citizen, able to make intelligent policy decisions.

George (Ted) Gallup was always proud of his roots and once told a reporter: “I’m from Jefferson, Iowa, and I’ll always be from Jefferson, Iowa.”

The town of Jefferson was laid out on land purchased by a two-hundred dollar loan in 1854. The original site consisted of 160 acres. Named after President Jefferson, who had died only 25 years prior to its purchase, the community was incorporated as a town in 1872.

A town of some 3,000 persons at the turn of the century, Jefferson was set in the plush farmland of central Iowa, in Greene County, located on high ground between the Raccoon River and Hardin Creek. At the turn of the century it looked little like the settled New England towns from which the vast majority of Jefferson’s residents had come. The town had a rather bleak, frontier look. Most of the settlers of Jefferson had come from New England in a great cross-continent migration in the years 1850 to 1870, and were of English ancestry.

When the first settlers arrived in the early 1850’s, there was only one tree standing at the present site of Jefferson – a tall, slender oak. Tradition has it that under this tree John Green, a Native American, smoked the peace pipe with the early settlers. Known as the “Charter Oak,” it had been a source of pride for Jeffersonians for many years. Next to it, since 1901, stood the Gallup’s octagonal house on Chestnut Street.

In 1901, Jefferson was enjoying the years of the “full dinner pail” that came with President William McKinley. Now with the Spanish-American war over, a period of peace and prosperity had come to the nation. Life was good to the farmer, and therefore to Jeffersonians, whose life was very much tied to the soil.

Yet with the good times came hardships. The world at the turn of the century into which Ted Gallup was born was a totally different world from today. At the beginning of the 1900’s, the average life expectancy was under 50. The five leading causes of death in the United States were pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease, and stroke. Two out of ten adults nationally couldn’t read or write (the ratio in Iowa was far better than the rest of the nation.) Only six percent of the entire population graduated high school. (This was in sharp contrast of the graduation rate of Jefferson High School, from which was 90 percent or higher, at least in more recent years.)

Only one in seven homes nationally had a bathtub. Fewer than 10 homes in 100 had a telephone. There were about 8,000 cars in the country in 1905 and only 144 miles of paved road.

Ninety-five percent of babies were born at home. Heat was provided by wood or coal-burning stoves. Rural areas had no electricity and most homes were lighted by kerosene lamps. Hand-pumped water was still common.

For Iowa and the Midwest, Jefferson was just enough larger than other towns at the time to have had a slightly more urbane character. It was served by two dailies. The larger of the two, the Jefferson Bee, founded in 1879, had a tremendous hold on the town.

Jefferson was decidedly Republican in its political orientation. In fact, it was not until 1932 that a Democrat was elected to high office in Iowa, and that person happened to be Ted Gallup’s mother -in-law, Ola Babcock Miller, who against all odds, was elected as Secretary of State of Iowa that year. Ted Gallup predicted her win, and it was that experience more than anything else that led him to consider starting the Gallup Poll, which he did three years later.

A man named L.A. Krigbaum, Manager of the publication, The Iowa Illustrated, wrote the following about Jefferson in a 1896 edition of this publication. His language is pure “boosterism,” but he does provide some of the flavor of the town of Jefferson near the turn of the century:

Here (in Jefferson) I find a class of business, financial and professional men, whose integrity and ability is unsurpassed by those of any city which I have yet visited; the homes are of unusual beauty and as to exquisite surroundings they will bear favorable comparison with any of her sister cities of Iowa. I find here an element of society that would be a credit to any community… I find here a liberal minded, charitably inclined class who are thoroughly devoted to the interests of one another. They labor zealously for any cause that will promote the best interest, and give liberally to all public enterprises… In fact, Jefferson, her surroundings and her people, should be a source of much pride and gratification to all, and I hail her as the zenith of inland Iowa.

A boyhood friend of Ted’s, Lowell Cadd, offered this vignette of life in Jefferson:

I’m taking you back to 1910 and 1911. You could count the cars in Jefferson, Iowa on your two hands, and no trucks. Everything was done by horse power then. Jefferson was a small town, but it sure was a busy place when it came to horses. It had to be with the courthouse right in the middle and four banks all in the same block. There were also three butcher shops, four bakeries at one time, two pool halls, five or six churches, three blacksmith shops. No hospital at that time, but plenty of medical doctors.