The All-American Upton Family


There were a lot of strong reactions to the protests against the national anthem on Sunday, but the most profound statement came from model Kate Upton:

“In my opinion, the national anthem is a symbolic song about our country. It represents honoring the many brave men and women who sacrifice and have sacrificed their lives each and every single day to protect our freedom. Sitting or kneeling down during the national anthem is a disgrace to those people who have served and currently serve our country. Sitting down during the national anthem on September 11th is even more horrific. Protest all you want and use social media all you want. However, during the nearly two minutes when that song is playing, I believe everyone should put their hands on their heart and be proud of our country for we are all truly blessed. Recent history has shown that it is a place where anyone no matter what race or gender has the potential to become President of the United States. We live in the most special place in the world and should be thankful. After the song is over, I would encourage everyone to please use the podium they have, stand up for their beliefs, and make America a better place. The rebuilding of battery park and the freedom tower demonstrates that amazing things can be done in this country when we work together towards a common goal. It is a shame how quickly we have forgotten this as a society. Today we are more divided then ever before. I could never imagine multiple people sitting down during the national anthem on the September 11th anniversary. The lessons of 911 should teach us that if we come together, the world can be a better and more peaceful place #neverforget.”

The Incredible Uptons

Legend has it that the first Upton to come to America traded his red horse riding pants with local Massachusetts Indians to establish his homestead in North Reading, and rode back to his (then) home in Salem in his underwear. From this unusual foundation, many of the grand legacies Americans pride themselves in – such as equal rights for women, unparalleled economic prosperity, an unsurpassed standard of living and even world’s mightiest Army that serves as the greatest force for freedom in history – can find their roots.

The story of the Uptons is one of the rare stories that really is hiding in plain sight, but almost no one has the presence of mind to look past the surface. They are a blessing to this country, and it is a story well worth telling.

The Keeper’s Choices

Anyone who will enjoy this essay owes a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Bob Upton of Connecticut. Thanks to his personal fascination with his family’s history, he set up the (unfortunately now defunct) BUpton.com, which was a rich one-stop shop for reliable information regarding the early years of the Uptons in America. (I printed some of the pages from the website back in 2014, which I am now referring to.) As the keeper of this history, Bob is able to select which Uptons will be forefront in representing the family. His website puts special emphasis on two: John Upton and Mary Upton Ferrin.

According to Bob’s documentation, John Upton, the aforementioned first Upton to come to America, most likely arrived in Massachusetts from London on July 27, 1635, on board the boat “Primrose”. “The passenger list for that voyage,” wrote Bob, “included a ‘Jo Lupton, age 25.’ While the given age seems to exclude John Upton, it was apparently very common for passenger ages to be misrepresented on ship logs bound for the New World”. Bob further explained:

“there is documentation of a John Upton being in the employ of Edward Winslow in Salisbury, Massachusetts in 1639. Mr. Winslow was named as defendant in a suit brought by John Askew, and John was named as being a bound servant of Winslow. It was common for young English men to agree to terms of indentured servitude, often for a period of six years, in exchange for passage to the New World. … Another lawsuit in 1641 contains language implying that John may have purchased his freedom for a price of 15 pounds, and it seems John Askew had promised Upton he would pay for his release from servitude.”

John and his wife, Eleanor, had 13 children, seven of whom are known to have survived past childhood. They lived on a 40 acre plot near Salem in a place now known as Upton Hill. After his pants trading incident, John moved to his new land in North Reding, where he lived out the rest of his days until his passing in 1699. He left his property in Salem to his two sons, Samuel and William.

By all accounts, the Upton family refused to be involved in the Salem Witch Hunts of 1692. Centuries later, Bob Upton’s great grandfather would own the Salem “Witch House” for a period of 40 years, “operating it as a pharmacy and museum,” Bob wrote, providing a photograph to prove it. It was this museum that Arthur Miller visited when researching The Crucible. (This is an extraordinary irony: Miller’s intention in writing the play was to defend the Rosenbergs, agents of the Soviet Union – a tyranny which not only was conducting the type of paranoid show trials Miller purported to oppose, but also which, as will be explained later, the Upton family played a coincidental role in dismantling.)

But the other house – the one on Upton Hill (now in the jurisdiction of the town of Peabody) – has a very different legacy. On April 27, 1810, it became the birthplace of Mary Upton, proudly described by Bob as “One of America’s First Women’s Rights Activist[s]”.

In 1845, Mary married a man named Jesse Ferrin. “Unfortunately for Mary,” Bob wrote, “Jesse was an abusive alcoholic.” She sought a legal divorce, but in those days, Massachusetts divorce laws were extremely archaic. As Bob wrote: “[Mary] quickly discovered that Massachusetts law prohibited women from divorcing their husbands. The law of the day also denied wives any rights to property ownership, prohibited them from writing a legal last will and testament without the consent of their husbands, and gave them no rights to their husbands’ estates other than what was granted them in their husbands’ will. In fact, any personal property of a married woman belonged, by law, to her husband.”

The story of her quest to change the law has been immortalized in Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s History of Woman Suffrage. The famous suffragists wrote that “for six years,” Mary Upton Ferrin “circulat[ed] petitions, [traveling] six hundred miles, two-thirds of this distance on foot. Much money was expended besides her time and travel, and her name should be remembered as that of one of the brave pioneers in this work.” Reproduced in the History is a powerful speech she made, “MRS. FERRIN’S ADDRESS TO THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE OF THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE IN 1850”, stating in part:

“To many of us death would be a luxury compared to what we suffer in consequence of the abusive treatment we receive from unprincipled men, which existing laws sanction and encourage by their indiscriminate severity, and with which we are told ‘it would be difficult to meddle on account of their sacredness and sublimity.’ The idea is sufficiently ludicrous to excite the risibility of the most grave. Though the sublime and the ridiculous may be too nearly allied for females to distinguish the difference, unjust inequality is to them far more contemptible than sacred, having thus far been ungraciously subjected to it. Well may we be called ‘the weaker sex’ if the error in judgment is ours, although we have intellect and energy enough not to respect the circumstances under which we are placed, nor the powers which would designedly inflict such injustice upon us.”

Nearly a decade after her ill-fated marriage, Mary’s work finally paid off. In 1854, as Bob wrote, “the Massachusetts legislature enacted the Married Women’s Property Act, which gave women control of their property, up to the one-half personal property limitation, empowered wives to make a last will and testament without the consent of their husband, and provided wives for the first time certain rights to their husband’s estates should he die intestate (without a proper will).” She was also, Bob wrote, “known as a ‘Universal Suffragist’ because she supported not only equal rights for women, but equal rights for all people, including African Americans and other minorities that also suffered from the lack of specific rights in our constitution.” The Constitution would in fact be amended to make sure the American Dream would be accessible to everyone, and — following in Mary’s footsteps — the Uptons would be at the forefront of the movements that made it happen.

The Freedom Fighters

Around this time, another member of the family, Emory Upton, was pursuing yet another noble cause: the abolition of slavery. Born in 1839 to a very religious father, who an Upton family biography described as “zealously opposed to slavery” and part of the network of safe-houses assisting runaway slaves known as the Underground Railroad, Emory, like his siblings, was brought up to be strong believer in the Christian faith and became a loyal member of the Republican Party – traditions that continue in the family to this day. In 1856, Emory entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, taking his politics with him. He was very vocal in his opposition to slavery, and famously got into a fist fight with a Southern Cadet over the issue. An observer of this fight later commented that Upton had shown to the Southerners at the Academy what “iron and steel there was in Northern blood when once it was up,” and Upton, once secession had started, couldn’t wait to take on the Democratic Party “traitors”, writing to his sister: “I heartily rejoice that Abraham Lincoln is elected, and that we have such a noble set of Republicans at Washington to meet this critical emergency.”

But once the Civil War started, Emory Upton was dismayed at what he saw – especially concerning how bad tactics cost many, many lives. He would almost certainly agree with Civil War historian Shelby Foote, who explained:

“The weapons were way ahead of the tactics. The Civil War musket wasn’t a musket, it was a true rifled weapon. It was muzzle loading, but a good man could get off four shots in a minute. That’s not slow shooting. And yet they stilled massed their men and advanced on an objective. And you can imagine what a mass of men would run into when they tried to take men who were entrenched up on a hill. You see what happened at Gettysburg. There were fifty percent casualties in that charge.”

Emory would become one of the most distinguished Generals of the War. At Spotsylvania, he famously organized his men into a vertical column (as opposed to the infamous linear row) that sprinted to the enemy’s entrenchments, quickly breached their defenses and took them on in hand-to-hand combat. He was 50 years ahead of his time, as this technique became the tactic of choice in the trenches of World War I. He his genius and bravery won praise from the leaders of the Union Army, including General Ulysses S. Grant, and continued to fight gallantly for the entirety of the War.

After the War was won and the slaves freed, Emory set out on a trip around the world to study the militaries of the nations of Europe and Asia, and returned home with ideas on how to restructure the US military so as to ensure that the deadly incompetence he witnessed in the Civil War would never again cost our fighting forces so dearly. His reforms, implemented posthumously by Secretary of War Elihu Root, were recounted by the Army Historical Foundation: “[A] permanent increase in the Army’s strength; creation of a General Staff; rotation of officers between staff and line; reduced dependency upon seniority; joint planning by the Army and Navy; an improved reserve program with special attention to the National Guard; and reorganization of the Army school.” Thanks to this, “the American Army was now posed to play an important role on the international stage.” From that time on, the United States Armed Forces became what it is today: the greatest instrument of freedom and liberation mankind has ever known.

Not long after Emory’s death, the Upton clan gained a new member when George Upton married Harriet Taylor. In 1890, Harriet Taylor Upton met Susan B. Anthony, and devoted herself to working with Anthony toward the cause of women’s suffrage. Upton became Treasurer of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, and was, according to the Washington Post, “without a doubt the best liked and wisest suffrage worker in the country. Always in times of stress, the other state leaders have to call on Mrs. Upton.” Her political skills went a long way to winning over the politicians necessary to secure passage of the 19th Amendment.

After securing womens’ right to vote, Harriet joined the other Uptons in becoming part of the Republican Party. She became the first woman to be vice-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, working hard in 1920 to elect Presidents Warren G. Harding and Vice-President (soon to be President) Calvin Coolidge, whose administrations’ free-market economic policies put an end to the Wilson administration’s Post-WWI economic depression and deficit spending. In 1924, she traveled the country in a successful campaign to have Coolidge re-elected, at one point visiting the Republican Neighborhood Association in New York City. According to the New York Herald Tribune‘s account of this meeting:

“[Upton] then told the women that their first duty in the coming campaign was to learn to ‘talk back’ to the Democrats.
‘Learn your lesson and then talk back,’ she said. ‘We Republicans have always been a little too well bred, too respectable, and we let the Democrats get away with a lot of things because we are too polite. We treat them as we would guests at our own table, who might say something impolite and we just pretend not to hear. Of course, we talk about such a guest after she is gone, but while she is our guest we don’t contradict. That is the way we Republicans act when the Democrats say things that aren’t so, and it is time we stopped it.’
The Democratic party’s assertions that it has done more for women than the Republicans have, Mrs. Upton mentioned, [is] one of the outstanding examples of talk which was current among women. She reminded the audience that when suffrage was ratified thirty-six states voted in favor of the amendment, of which twenty-nine were Republican states.”

(The Democrats still claim that, even though it is demonstrably untrue – see my friend Katie Pavlich’s book Assault and Flattery: The Truth About the Left and Their War on Women.)

The Clean-Up Team

The nation benefited mightily from Harriet’s work. Coolidge was indeed reelected in 1924, and from the 5 percent unemployment that year it continued to drop to 3.2 percent in 1925 and on down into the 2s. He also reduced the national debt from $24 billion to $16 billion. It was classic Conservatism. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon explained that “Any man of energy and initiative in this country can get what he wants out of life. But when initiative is crippled by legislation or by a tax system which denies him the right to receive a reasonable share of his earnings, then he will no longer exert himself and the country will be deprived of the energy on which its continued greatness depends.” He also asked rhetorically: “Does anyone question that Mr. Ford has made more money by reducing the price of his car and increasing his sales than he would have made by maintaining a high price and a greater profit per car, but selling less cars?”

John F. Kennedy liked to say about economic growth that a rising tide lifts all boats. It was always true, but the Uptons were prepared for this flood with an Ark unlike any the world had ever seen. It didn’t float, it needed electricity, and its only function was washing clothes. Nevertheless, Fred and Lou Upton’s electronic washing machine would take the world by storm.

It wasn’t easy. The Upton brothers started their company in 1911, and in 1916 they met the great philanthropist and Sears President Julius Rosenwald. Luckily for the Uptons, Rosenwald was at that time in the mood for grand projects. That same year he would launch his most famous endeavor – singlehandedly financing Booker T. Washington’s successful program to build schools for black children in the South, where in those days of Jim Crow there were virtually none. Rosenwald saw promise in the Uptons’ invention, and they sealed the deal with a handshake.

But things turned bleak in the Post-WWI Depression. As Kirk Shinkle wrote in Investor’s Business Daily, “[d]emand dried up, and Sears washer sales dropped 65%. If Sears couldn’t buy washers, they wouldn’t pay back that big loan. Sears was in trouble too. Rosenwald was forced to put up his own money as collateral against Sears’ outstanding debts.” However:

“Instead of calling in the loan and bankrupting the Uptons, Louis Upton and Rosenwald stuck it out together. Their relationship endured. Rosenwald took stock in the Uptons’ company, a risky and unprofitable proposition for Sears unless the two stayed the course together and waited for a recovery. … By 1925, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Wood was president of Sears and was ready to award Sears’ washing machine business to a lucky company. Other manufacturers were better financed than the Uptons, but the history between the two made all the difference. He named Upton Machine Co. as his exclusive supplier and sealed that deal with only a handshake. The Sears sale made the Uptons a fortune, securing the future of the company and its founders who had faced even greater obstacles to bring it to life.”

After the mid-1920s, the Uptons’ company, Whirlpool, was unstoppable. Not even the Great Depression of Herbert Hoover (who had the bad judgment of reversing many of the Coolidge administration’s economic policies that Harriet Taylor Upton fought so hard for) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who’s endless public experiments perpetuated the Depression until the Second World War) could halt their success. “By 1960,” writes Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson in The Good Life and Its Discontents, “nearly three quarters of households had modern electric washers—and many of those who didn’t lived in apartments.” A task that used to take days could now be done in a few hours, opening the door for two-income households to become commonplace and thus even greater prosperity. Gone were the days when women had to spend entire days hand-washing clothes. To our grandparents’ generation, it was the end of housework as they knew it.

But the Uptons’ invention would play another, unforeseen role in history: the discrediting of Communism in the Soviet Empire.

A little background: In the dark days of WWII, the Soviet regime came to see the necessity of reversing much of their anti-Western propaganda for the sake of selling their wartime alliance with the West to the Russian people. To this end, the Soviets allowed the American and British embassies to publish Russian-language cultural magazines in an effort to show that – rather than being the epitome of all evil – capitalists can in fact be non-threatening; even friendly! It was wildly (and unexpectedly) popular, but it didn’t last long. After the end of the war Stalin closed down the operation and once again began to insist that the West was the devil. But no matter what he did, he could not erase the Soviet citizens’ profound new enchantment with the Western way of life.

General Dwight Eisenhower took notice, and when he became President in the 1950s he was determined to use the American Dream as a weapon aimed at the heart of aggressive and imperialistic Communism. The climax of this effort was the 1959 American exhibition at Sokolniki Park in Moscow. “The exhibit was designed to show Russians that free enterprise produced goods that made life better for average Americans,” wrote the late William Safire, who was there to witness the famous “Kitchen Debate” in the model typical California home. Vice-President Richard Nixon, giving the tour of the house to Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev, found himself on the receiving end of an angry anti-capitalist tirade. Nixon’s response was simply to let capitalism do the talking, directing Khrushchev into the model kitchen:

Nixon: “I want to show you this kitchen. It’s like those of houses in California. See that built-in washing machine?”

Khrushchev saw it, and he did the only thing he could do:

Khrushchev: “The Americans have created their own image of the Soviet man. But he is not as you think. You think the Russian people will be dumbfounded to see these things, but the fact is that newly built Russian houses have all this equipment right now.”

Nixon, Khrushchev, and the genuinely dumbfounded Moscow audience, knew that this was a lie. The Soviets could never hide from their inefficiencies. And all anyone had to do to learn what the Russian people thought of their system was listen to their jokes: “At the annual May Day parade in Moscow, there was a long parade of marching soldiers, followed by tanks, missiles, and other weapons. Then right at very back of the parade there are a few open trucks, carrying a group of middle-aged men wearing badly-fitting grey suits. Up on the podium, reviewing the parade as it goes by, one of the senior Communists looks at the person next to him and says: ‘So who are those men and why are they in the parade?’ And the other responds: ‘Ah, they are economists from the central-planning bureau. You’ve no idea how much destructive capacity they possess.’”*

Discontent grew, and the United States decided to exploit the Achilles’ heel. By 1985, with small-scale circulation of the Russian-language American-government produced magazine Amerika reauthorized, the Associated Press would report that Amerika “sells at kiosks for 50 kopeks – 65 cents … the 60,000 copies are snapped up … authors of this magazine obviously think beautiful pictures make enough of a pitch for the American way of life. ‘We try to give as much sense as possible of the way people here live, the government processes, stories about trade and culture,’ says Robert A. Poteete, editor-in-chief of the magazine, which by law cannot be distributed in the United States.” It had “a dazzling two-page spread of household appliances to make any shopper in the GUM department store envious enough to break out of queue. The cooktop stove is cooking succulent shrimp, the dishwasher is loaded with fine china, the two-door refrigerator with the icewater dispenser is loaded with goodies. ‘In 1959, the average American had to work 128 hours to buy a $280 clothes washer,’ the story notes. ‘Now that washing machine costs $450, but at the national average wage of $8.53 (1983), it takes just 53 hours’ labor to buy it.’” And according to Geraldo Rivera:

“I am firmly convinced, I mentioned this to you earlier this morning, that when my talk show went on the air in 1988 in the Soviet Union, before the fall of the Wall, that helped accelerate the process, it was first my talk show and then Joan Rivers joined me on the air in the Soviet Union. … It was shown on Moscow TV and in other places. So here you had it with the advertisements for washing machines and, you know, for new cars and, you know, all of the things that you advertise in a daytime talk show. And I’m sure that the audiences looking at this stuff saying, hmm, I wish I had a washing machine like that. Hmm, I wish I had a color TV like that …Or this product or that product. I believe that that helped hasten the fall of the Soviet Union …”

Confirmation of the effectiveness of this strategy came after the Cold War, as reported by Toni Hull of Lancaster, Pa, who was living in Moscow:

“In one of the greater ironies of the communist myth, Soviet Russia had no corner laundromats, surely the most communal of enterprises imaginable. Nor were there common laundry rooms tucked away in the basements of those miles and miles of non-descript Brezhnev-era apartment blocks. True, there were laundry services that were infamous for over-starching and losing things. And you had to sew number tags into everything as if you were at camp. And it took over a week to get your items back. … There was, according to [Toni’s husband] Volodya, a quite popular Soviet-made washing machine (produced as a sideline by the defense industry), but just the same I’ve never been in a Soviet home where a good deal of hand laundry wasn’t part of the daily routine. But this is Moscow 1997, where things are changing, and changing fast. According to one survey, the most wished-for consumer item in the average Russian household is an imported washing machine.”

It is human nature that people want a better life. The Uptons’ invention provided such a grand improvement on day-to-day living that it could not be forcibly withheld from people without consequence. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan told the British Parliament: “In an ironic sense Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxist-Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens.” In the end, it could only fail.

*[This joke is quoted on the blog of economist Timothy Taylor, who has collected a number of Soviet jokes]

The Equestrian

Kate Upton was born in 1992, the 300 year anniversary (estimated) of the fabled horse ride that established the Upton family in America. By the time she was 2 years old, she had fallen in love with horses. This love, as she has said many times, is central to who she is – but it has also, behind the scenes, been a guiding light to her success.

Kate’s interest in competitive horseback riding is outlined by Gina Salamone in the New York Daily News:

Even before becoming a model, Upton stood out as an equestrienne. “She had a huge personality,” said Shannon Gillespie, who with her husband coached Upton for competitions and trained her horses. “She was very outgoing, and always was beautiful. “Everybody just loved her because she was really friendly and had a lot of friends around all the shows,” Gillespie said. “And she was really dedicated and hard working with the horses.” Gillespie, who worked with Upton when she was between 13 and 15 years old, recalled the teen training hard for competitions with her mom at home in Florida. “They rode every day,” Gillespie said. “And she was really skilled in a lot of different events which is unusual because most people are only good at a few things.” The hard work paid off. Upton and her horse Roanie won three American Paint Horse Association Reserve World Championships, as well as several other titles. “She did jumping, reining, she probably showed in 10 or 12 different types of events,” said Gillespie. “So she’s very versatile. Everybody in the (horse) industry knew her, even before she started modeling, because she talked to everybody and always had something funny to say.”

Kate’s connection to her four hoofed companions is solidified by a tattoo of a horseshoe on her left wrist. “This is for luck and also to remind me of horse showing,” she said of her tattoo. “It’s also crooked so I don’t lose my luck.”

Many of the secrets to her success as model can be traced to this hobby. Not only was she first scouted at a horse show, but equestrian gave her many of the tools models need to excel. The sport requires years of practice in building posture, balance and, above all, confidence. Even though the ability to stand up straight and walk without stumbling are obviously essential to the industry, the core of modeling – as with equestrian – is the willingness to face the cameras and be subject to the critical eye of the public. Thus, Kate came prepared.

Armed with all the skills she needed, Kate set out to implement her plan to become a superstar. She explained to Voguethat “I always had career goals. And I figured out a path I wanted to take to accomplish those goals. If that meant calling the best modeling agency in the world, that’s what it meant.” Thus, she set up a meeting with IMG Models senior vice president, Ivan Bart, who recalled to Vogue that she looked him in the eye and said “If I’m going to make it as a model, I’ve got to be a celebrity.”

Her reasoning is sound (on a personal note, I think of my friend Amber Lee Ettinger, who got her big break in 2007 when she became the celebrity known as “Obama Girl” – although today she is staunchly apolitical). When she was growing up, Kate “didn’t buy the magazines that had models on the covers, because I didn’t know them.” She believes that by being herself and keeping herself in the public, it will “kind of [give] me, as a model, a personality that people can connect with.” Individuality is something Kate has shown strong feelings about, probably best symbolized by the tattoo of a cross she has on her finger. “I was at a photo shoot and I was wearing a cross necklace that my mom bought me, and somebody made a joke like, ‘Why are you wearing a cross? Like you would be religious,’” she told Elle magazine. “Then they took [my necklace] away. I was really affected by that. The whole thing made me realize that I do want [a cross] with me, at all times.” Later, when an MTV blog asked her “Who’s the ideal man today that guys should strive to be more like? President Obama? George Clooney? Snoop Dogg?” she brushed the humor aside and responded very seriously:

Honestly, I think that this is part of the problem — men should be their own person. And people are always striving to be someone else, and you’re just setting yourself up for failure if you’re trying to be someone else. You have to be yourself, because that’s who you are and that’s what you’re best at — believing in whatever you believe in and how you act. That’s what girls will find attractive.

Kate’s family supported her all the way. Take, for example, the case of the Whirlpool Corperation founder’s grandson, Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, or “Uncle Fred”. As the quotation implies, those are Kate’s words describing her father’s brother (thus making Kate the great-granddaughter of the electronic washing machine’s inventor). She revealed on Fox News that the ranking Republican congressman made sure to call and congratulate his niece on becoming Sports Illustrated’s cover girl. “She’s a great gal,” Representative Upton says. “It’s been fun to watch her grow up.”


The Uptons are the embodiment of what can be achieved in a free society. Their commitment to liberty and entrepreneurial spirit are what both define and enhance the American Dream. They advanced society in all categories – economically, politically, militarily, and culturally.

It is an inspiring story, and should be unknown no more.