George Horace Gallup was born on November 18, 1901, in Jefferson, Iowa. He was the son of George Henry Gallup, a dairy farmer. George, Jr., then known as “Ted” delivered milk and “used his salary to start a newspaper at the high school.” He was also a football player who played for the University of Iowa while he obtained his higher education. He was “editor of The Daily Iowan, an independent newspaper which serves the university campus. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1923, his Master of Arts in 1925, and his Ph.D. in 1928.
After obtaining his education, he “served as the head of the Department of Journalism” at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1931 he became “a professor of journalism and advertising at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The next year, he moved to New York City to join the advertising agency of Young and Rubicam as director of research” and later as vice president. He was also “professor of journalism at Columbia University.” He resigned from this position soon after he started the American Institute of Public Opinion (known as Gallup Poll) in 1935.
As “an American pioneer of survey sampling techniques,” he is “often credited as the developer of public polling” after helping his mother-in-law with some political polling. “In 1936, his new organization achieved national recognition by correctly predicting, from the replies of only 50,000 respondents, that Franklin Roosevelt would defeat Alf Landon in the U.S. Presidential election. This was I direct contradiction to the widely respected Literary Digest magazine whose poll based on over two million returned questionnaires predicted that Landon would be the winner. Not only did Gallup get the election right, he correctly predicted the results of the Literary Digest poll as well using a random sample smaller than theirs but chosen to match it.
“Twelve years later, his organization had its moment of greatest ignominy, when it predicted that Thomas Dewey would defeat Harry S. Truman in the 1948 election, by five to fifteen percentage points. Gallup believed the error was mostly due to ending his polling three weeks before Election Day.”
Gallup died on July 26, 1984, “of a heart attack at his summer home in Tschingel, a village in the Bernese Oberland of Switzerland” and was buried in the Princeton Cemetery. His wife died in 1988. The couple had one son, George Gallup, Jr., writer and pollster, who died in 2011.