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Born to Poll. The methods which George Gallup uses are as old as those used by grain samplers, cotton testers or tea tasters. Gallup's contribution has been to apply those methods commercially to everything and anything in the world. A friend has said of him: "He wishes he had invented the ruler. Since someone beat him to it, Gallup has spent his life thinking up new ways to use it." It is almost true to say that George Gallup was born to be a pollster.
He was born in Jefferson, Iowa (pop. 4,000) in November 1901. His father was looked on as something of an eccentric by the neighbors. He built an eight-sided house for his family, on the theory that it would be proof against wind storms, scribbled a new system of logic which Gallup still hopes to edit some day. He was an ardent Bryan man. As a joke, people started calling George "Ted," after Teddy Roosevelt, a nickname that has stuck ever since.
When Ted was a sophomore at the State University of Iowa, his father went broke in the postwar crash of land prices. Gallup made his own way with a towel service in the college locker room, later as editor of the Daily lowan. He transformed the lowan from a routine college puff sheet into a paper with national news. He began to get interested in why people read certain storiesand how many and which ones they actually do read. After graduation he stayed on at Iowa as a graduate student in psychology.
Toothpaste & Politics. He began his first experiments in polling, tramping the streets of Iowa City with a briefcase full of newspapers. At that time, a common way of measuring reader interest was to yank out the crossword puzzle for a week and count the complaints. Gallup adopted the startling device of confronting a reader with the whole newspaper and asking him exactly what he liked and didn't like about it.
He found out that most readers preferred comics to the front page, feature stories to news. This gave him the material for a Ph.D. thesis, got him a job teaching at Drake University and the chance to run reader surveys for half a dozen or more top U.S. newspapers.
One survey for the Des Moines Register and Tribune led to a bigger & better rotogravure section and, eventually, to Look magazine. Another sold the Chicago Tribune's Bertie McCormick on the public demand for fat Sunday editions. A third, for William Randolph Hearst, led to the birth of the first comic-strip advertising and a job for George Gallup as head of the research division in the Manhattan advertising firm of Young & Rubicam, Inc.
By 1932 Pollster Gallup was an up-&coming expert at finding out who read what kind of toothpaste ads and why. One day he said to himself: "If it works for toothpaste, why not for politics?"
Fall of the Digest. He talked the idea over with a blond, blue-eyed Midwestern salesman of newspaper features named Harold Anderson, who had become a partner in Gallup's research service. Anderson jumped at it, urged Gallup on. He began lining up newspaper publishers, soon interested both the Washington Post's Eugene Meyer and the New York Herald Tribune's Helen Rogers Reid.