Elmo Roper Papers
Scope and Content
The collection contains correspondence, speeches, speech cards, articles, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks, some job files from Roper Research Associates, and a variety of press releases, advertisements, and legal papers from the various groups and corporations with which he was involved.
The main series are Correspondence, Articles, Speeches, Radio, Jobs and Scrapbooks. The Correspondence series contains a subset of personal materials, particularly in 1948 relating to the death of his son, James. The Articles Series contains Roper's published writings, chiefly from the Fortune Survey, the Saturday Review, and academic journals such as Public Opinion Quarterly. Roper sometimes spoke from a prepared text and sometimes from notes, and the Speeches series contains both full texts and a large set of speech cards. He would often base an article on a speech, and both versions are typically present. The Radio series contains the scripts for his weekly radio broadcasts on CBS and NBC. The Jobs series contains correspondence related to the obtaining and designing of several survey projects undertaken by Roper's research firm, and in some cases contain data as well. Notable among this series is a large job done for the Air Force after World War II surveying the opinions of both U.S. airmen and French locals about relations between airbases and the communities around them.
The correspondence, the most significant portion of the collection, typically contains the originals sent to him and carbons of his replies, includes a wide range of famous individuals, from U.S. Senators and Presidents to business leaders and notable members of the public opinion research community. Supplementary and background material is often included with the correspondence, which covers topics from the founding of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and the evolving nature of the public opinion polling industry to fundraising appeals for a variety of liberal causes and groups such as the Urban League, Planned Parenthood, and the Fund for the Republic, material from his tenure on the Connecticut Civil Rights Commission and his wartime work for the Office of Strategic Services and the Office of Production Management. There is a large quantity of material relating to the polls' failure in the 1948 presidential election, the subsequent public furor, and the attempts to figure out what had gone wrong. There are letters from academic and government figures on the polls' failings, and from the general public as well.
There is a particularly large quantity of material relating to his work for the Atlantic Union Committee and other organizations promoting political union of the United States and its western European allies, one of Roper's favorite causes. There are extensive financial and legal records from his business and personal life, including a real estate company and newspaper in Redding, and records of his charitable contributions. Other items of interest include letters from his son Bud (Burns) during his tenure in flight school and as a B17 copilot in WWII, family correspondence from the 1920s to 1971, wills and codicils, and a large quantity of letters and legal documents relating to the resolution of his parents' estates.
In 2007, a small collection of awards, certificates, citations and honors was added and placed in Series VI. In 2015, with the move of the Roper Center to Cornell University, a number of personal materials were added to the collection and placed in Series VII.
- undated, 1909 - 1972
The collection is open and available for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from the owner(s) of the copyright.
Elmo Roper ( 1900 - 1971) was a pioneer in the fields of market research and public opinion polling. Born in Nebraska on 31 July 1900, he operated a jewelry store with his brother in Iowa in the 1920s. While not successful, the experience taught him the value of understanding what his customers wanted. He did his first customer research while employed by the Traub Company in the early 1930s, trying to find out why their products were not selling better, and in 1933 he co-founded one of the first market research firms, Cherington, Wood, and Roper.
Roper was director of the Fortune Survey, the first national poll based on scientific sampling techniques, from 1935 until 1950, and his correct prediction of the 1936 Franklin Roosevelt landslide over Alf Landon helped establish scientific polling as a viable industry. This was demonstrated in 1940 when FDR asked his organization and George Gallup's to do polling on the proposed Lend-Lease deal to send destroyers to England in order to gauge public support before going ahead.
During World War II, Roper was hired by "Wild Bill" Donovan to be deputy director of the Office of Strategic Services, in charge of finding the best men to staff the new intelligence agency. Roper helped convince George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower of the importance of opinion research in the armed forces, overcoming opposition from others, and helped Donovan go outside channels to ensure that security at American industrial plants was sufficiently strong. He then became a "dollar-a-year" man for the Office of War Information, the Office of Production Management, and the Army and the Navy. His company also did work for the government, surveying the general public in order to set wartime production goals as well as prioritize the transition back to a peacetime economy.
Following the 1948 election, when the polls' spectacular failure to predict Harry Truman's comeback victory over Thomas Dewey caused the public opinion industry's greatest crisis, Roper led the public and private defense of polling, withstanding the scorn of comedians and politicians to call for a measured look at what had gone wrong and why. Behind the scenes his reassurance of his commercial clients (and the strength of his reputation) helped prevent market research from being damaged too greatly by the failure of the polls. While it would take some time for public confidence to return, polling managed to survive in part because of Roper's calls for calm and reason, and his frank admission of errors where they had occurred.
Roper was an editor-at-large for the Saturday Review, a founding member of the Connecticut Civil Rights Commission, a syndicated newspaper and radio columnist, and in his later years would be a perennial election and convention analyst on network television. A tireless activist for liberal causes, he was head of the fundraising arm of the Urban League right after the war, and served on the boards of the Fund for the Republic, and more than two dozen other groups and corporations from Planned Parenthood and the Children's Television Workshop to Tiffany's and Spiegel.
Roper was especially interested in the concept of Atlantic Union, which advocated greater political, economic, and military unity among the United States and western Europe to counterbalance the threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations. He was a member of the US Citizen's Commission on NATO, and an important delegate to a convention in Paris that discussed the idea of Atlantic Union in 1962. Although he never finished college, Roper was the recipient of honorary degrees from Williams College, the University of Louisville, and the University of Minnesota, and was in constant demand as a speaker for the last thirty years of his life.
In 1946 Roper founded the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Williams College, the first social science data archives. To establish the basis for the Center's collection, Roper convinced fellow pioneers Gallup and Archibald Crossley to send their data to the Center as well, with the idea of assembling the kind of breadth and depth of data necessary for scholars and policymakers to make informed and responsible use of public opinion information. Now located at the University of Connecticut, the Roper Center is the world's largest repository of polling data, with collections spanning the globe and dating back to the 1930s.
Roper married Dorothy Shaw in the 1920s, and they had two sons, Burns and James. Burns was also an influential member of the opinion research community, succeeded his father as head of Roper Research Associates following Elmo's retirement. Roper died in 1971 in Redding, CT.
68.8 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
Elmo Roper (1900 - 1971) was a pioneer in the fields of market research and public opinion polling. The collection contains correspondence, speeches, speech cards, articles, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks, some job files from Roper Research Associates, and a variety of press releases, advertisements, and legal papers from the various groups and corporations with which he was involved.
Series I: Correspondence, 1909 - 1972
Series II: Articles, 1937 -1969
Series III: Speeches, Notes and Polls, 1936 - 1969
Series IV: Radio and Television, 1940 - 1956
Series V: Jobs, 1953 - 1961
Series VI: Scrapbooks, Calendars and Ephemera, undated, 1921 - 1970
Series VII: 2015 Addition, 1939 - 1969
The collection is arranged topically and chronologically therein.
The collection was maintained at the Roper Center until its transfer to the Thomas J. Dodd Center in 1995.
The collection was donated to Archives & Special Collections by Mr. Burns Roper in November 2002. The collection of citations, certificates, awards and honors was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Melamed in April 2007.
Cheer: a Book of Poems compiled and editied with an introduction by George R. Madison. 1912.
Statistics Sources edited by Paul Wasserman. 1962. Dodd C6013
Image: Essays in Communication dedicated to Edward R. Murrow on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Journalism Education at Boston University. 1966.
- Administrative records Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Clippings (information artifacts) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Correspondence Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Market surveys Subject Source: Fast
- Marketing research Subject Source: Fast
- Public opinion Subject Source: Fast
- Public opinion polls Subject Source: Fast
- Scrapbooks Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Speeches (documents) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- United States (nation) Subject Source: Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names
- Elmo Roper Papers
- Archives & Special Collections staff
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
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- This finding aid was created with the generous support of the Archibald and Helen Crossley Endowment Fund.