55 The Polling Family of Blawenburg
Logo of the Gallup Organization
What started as curiosity, turned to interest, then to research, and finally to a business that has endured for over 85 years. George H. Gallup began a polling company in the 1930s based on his childhood interest in ideas and people. The company grew, and the name Gallup became synonymous with polling in the United States and around the world. This world-class pioneering polling family lived in Blawenburg most of their lives.
Dr. George Gallup on the cover of Time, May 3, 1948
Caption: In an election year, a political slide rule
Dr. George H. Gallup
The family of George Horace Gallup (November 18, 1901—July 26, 1984), patriarch of the Gallup poll, immigrated early to America, arriving in 1630. They lived in the Stonington, CT area for eight generations until George’s father, George Henry Gallup, moved to Jefferson, Iowa to pursue dairy farming.
His father was always interested in new ideas and encouraged his children to challenge the status quo. George was an inquisitive child, foreshadowing his lifelong passion for trying to help people figure out how to solve society’s predicaments. As his biography from the Gallup Organization says, “His singular vision was that the solutions to many of society's problems would be found in understanding the thoughts and feelings of the individual.”
In high school, George was an excellent student and standout athlete. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Iowa as a journalism major. At UI he played on the football team, was active in Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity life, and served as editor of the newspaper, The Daily Iowan. He received his BA in 1923, an MA in 1925, and a PhD in Journalism in 1928.
He headed the Journalism Department at Drake University until 1931, then went on to Northwestern University as a professor. Just a year later, he moved to New York City to work for Young and Rubicam, a large advertising agency. He applied his interest in public opinion to create the Impact method to determine the effectiveness of radio advertising. At the time, pollsters sought any opinions they could find. Typically, they used telephone directories and car registration lists to find people. But many didn’t have telephones or cars in the 1930s, so the polling samples were not representative of the total population. Gallup used a scientific method of sampling in all states to get a more accurate picture of people’s viewpoints. His methods turned out to be better predictors of opinion.
The First Political Poll
In 1932, Ola Babcock Miller, George’s mother-in-law, was running for Secretary of State in Iowa. She was widely expected to lose, but George conducted the first-ever scientific political poll, predicting against all odds that she would win. When she won, George knew he was on to a good thing. He parlayed this success as well as his experience in journalism and advertising to create a public polling organization. He founded the American Institute of Public Opinion in Princeton and released his first poll results on October 20, 1935.
Dr. Gallup believed in his survey techniques, and he had the confidence in his methods to predict that Democratic incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt would win the presidency in 1936. Many people expected his Republican opponent, Alf Landon, to win what many pundits predicted would be a tight race. Gallup conducted a nationwide poll and predicted that FDR would handily win. History shows us that the Gallup poll was right, with FDR winning by a landslide. Gallup won, too. The correct call on that election launched his polling methods into the national spotlight.
The American Institute of Public Opinion went on to international success using Dr. Gallup’s methods to do political polling and other surveys. Hollywood saw a good use for polling and contracted with Gallup. In her fascinating book, George Gallup in Hollywood, Susan Ohmer chronicles film industry opinion polling in the 1930s and 40. She notes that the Gallup Poll was soon “gauging reactions to stars and scripts for RKO Pictures, David O. Selznick, and Walt Disney and taking the public's temperature on Orson Welles and Desi Arnaz, couples such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and films like Gone with the Wind, Dumbo, and Fantasia.”
Not all the Gallup polls correctly predicted the end results of elections. Perhaps the biggest polling error came in the 1948 election, when Thomas Dewey ran against incumbent President Harry Truman. Gallup and other pollsters predicted a win for Dewey, but they were wrong. Harry Truman won. Despite this glitch, the Gallup Organization had established a solid track record of accurate polling in many other events, so this fumble didn’t hurt the future of the organization. Always the optimist, Dr. Gallup assessed his miscue. “We are continually experimenting and continually learning.” He contended that the public opinion poll was “one of the most useful instruments of democracy ever devised.''
Under Dr. Gallup’s leadership, the Gallup Organization was the premier polling organization for many years. As his Gallup biography aptly points out, “His worldwide contributions were recognized early, often, during, and after his lifetime.”
Dr. Gallup passed away in 1984 while on a trip to Switzerland. Time magazine summed up Dr. Gallup’s legacy. “He may not have always been right, but his attempt to measure what Americans wanted permanently changed the nation’s political systems.” This assessment holds true many decades after his death.
At Home in Blawenburg
In 1936, the American Institute of Public Opinion was off and running, and Dr. Gallup decided to purchase a farm not too far from Princeton, where his business was located. He found a farm to his liking on the Great Road with Bedens Brook running through it. This wasn’t any farm; it was one of the original farms of Blawenburg. It was the farm where Michael Blaw built his mill in 1743. It is widely believed that the village of Blawenburg is named for the mill and the Blaw family. Gallup and his wife lived in the old farmhouse until his death in 1984.
The Gallup homestead was a much modernized and improved version of the original house that Michael Blaw built.
Dr. Gallup drove a turquoise 1953 Chevrolet similar to this one until late in his life.
It was seen frequently in Blawenburg.
Dr. Gallup chats at Stryker’s Store just up the road from his house.
The Gallup Brothers
When George Gallup’s sons, Alec and George Jr., completed their college educations and after other early adult pursuits, they both joined the organization that their father had established two decades earlier. George Jr. began working for the organization in the mid-1950s. The American Institute of Public Opinion was reorganized in 1958 to become the Gallup Organization. In 1959, Alec joined the organization, and the Gallup brothers soon worked their way to executive positions.
When George Jr. and Alec were married and working for the Gallup Organization, the family purchased what was the original Covenhoven Farm on the east side of Blawenburg and renamed it Spring Hill Farm. They each built houses close to Bedens Brook along Mountain View Road on the old farmstead.
Alec Miller Gallup
Alec Miller Gallup was born January 4, 1928, in Iowa City just as his father was completing his doctoral studies. He attended Princeton University for three years and then returned to Iowa and to earn a degree in journalism at Iowa University in 1950. He pursued further studies in communications and journalism at Stanford University, as well as marketing and advertising research at New York University. When he joined the Gallup Organization, he came with the academic credentials that would help provide strong leadership to the successful corporation his father had built.
Alec was known for having a “keen eye” for polling questions. In Alec’s obituary in the New York Times, Andrew Kohut, former president of the Gallup Organization and Pew Research Center said, “He could smell out a bad question or an unreasonable interpretation of data as well as anyone I’ve ever known.”
Alec took the lead in several major studies including the Human Needs and Satisfaction survey, one of the first comprehensive global surveys conducted, and the Phi Delta Kappa education survey, which is still conducted today after 50 years.
Alec died in 2009.
George H. Gallup, Jr.
George was born on April 9, 1930, in Evanston, IL when his father was a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. When he graduated from Princeton University with a degree in religion in 1953, he knew that the family business was awaiting him; however, his strong interest in religion was pulling him in a different direction. He knew in his heart that he wanted to become an Episcopal priest, so he went to Galveston Island, TX to work in the ministry. It wasn’t long, though, before the desire to help with the family business won out, and he returned to NJ to work with his father.
George Gallup Jr.
While political polling predominated the work of the Gallup Organization, George Jr. added the dimension of religion and spirituality to the polling mix. In 1977, while he remained as an executive at Gallup, he partnered with Dr. Miriam Murphy, a sociologist and sister in the order of Notre Dame, to establish the Princeton Religion Research Center to use polling to determine the extent of religious commitment in society.
Serving in the shadow of a famous father can be intimidating, but George Jr. made it clear that he wanted to be Junior. His father used the title Dr. in order to establish which George was which.
George Jr. died in 2011 following a battle with cancer.
After Dr. Gallup
When Dr. Gallup passed away in 1984, George Jr. and Alec continued to lead the organization for two more years. In 1986, the Gallup brothers sold the organization to Selection Research, Incorporated (SRI), a research organization in Omaha, NE; however, they remained with the company as co-chairs for another decade. SRI has continued to grow the company, having over 30 offices and 2,000 employees worldwide.
Today there are many other polling organizations, especially in the world of politics, and there have been major advances in technology that have changed the way polling is done. The Gallup Organization’s founder and leaders have passed away, the farms where they lived have changed hands, and the company has different owners; nevertheless, the Gallup name still stands with integrity. The Gallup family name is still well known, and its original leaders are remembered as pioneers of the scientific approach to seeking public opinion.
Did you know the Gallups when they lived in Blawenburg? What do you remember about them? Please add your thoughts in the comment section below or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. In Scandinavia, the word gallup has become a generic word, like Jell-O and Kleenex. It means survey, and it stems from the Gallup family and its polling history.
2. The farmland once held by the Gallup family will forever remain as farmland, thanks to the Gallup family’s foresight in entering the NJ Farmland Preservation Program.
3. Dr. Gallup’s wife, Ophelia Miller Gallup, had connections in Hollywood and became friends with actress Loretta Young. She would visit the Gallups in their Blawenburg home and would be seen from time to time at the corner store.
Loretta Young (1913-2000) in 1943
4. Dr. Gallup was very sensitive to how his actions might influence his polls. In 1972, he revealed to an interviewer that the last Presidential candidate that he voted for was Alfred E. Smith in 1928.
5. While the Gallup Poll has sought opinions for political events, they have never done a poll on behalf of one political party. This has been true since the inception of the company.
6. The personal papers and other media such as interviews and radio and TV programs related to the Gallup family (Dr. Gallup, George Jr., Alec, and other family members) are located in a special collection at the University of Iowa Library in Iowa City, IA.
Alec Gallup interview - https://www.pbs.org/fmc/interviews/agallup.htm
Alec Gallup’s obituary – New York Times, June 30, 2009
Dr. Gallup’s obituary – July 28, 1984
George Gallup Jr.’s obituary – New York Times, November 22, 2011
Ohmer, Susan. George Gallup in Hollywood. New York, Columbia University Press, 2006.
Provenzo Jr., Eugene F. (October 29, 2008). Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education. SAGE Publications. p. 359. ISBN 9781452265971. Retrieved April 24,2018.
Alec Gallup – http://www.pbs.org
Dr. Gallup at Stryker’s Store – origin unknown
Gallup homestead – Ted Blew
George Gallup Jr. – http://www.nj.com
George Gallup Time cover -
Gallup Organization logo – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallup_(company)
Loretta Young – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loretta_Young
Copyright © 2021 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.