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Winterset, Iowa: The Birthplace of John Wayne

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Modest birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa

Modest birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa

Birthplace of John Wayne

Winterset, Iowa, is a beautiful little town and was the birthplace of the well-known film star known as John Wayne. The man who was eventually called John Wayne by millions of moviegoers was born to Clyde and Mary Brown Morrison in the little four-room cottage pictured above on May 26, 1907. He was named Marion Robert Morrison.

His dad was a pharmacist, and in 1910 he purchased his drug store in Earlham, Iowa, where he moved his little family. It was about 15 miles down the road from Winterset. When a second son (Robert Emmett Morrison) was born in 1911, Marion's parents changed his middle name to Michael.

Marion grew up absorbing turn of the century midwestern values. Primarily for the health of his father, his family moved to California. One of the many jobs he had was delivering newspapers. He was very athletic and became a football player in high school, and was also captain of his team.

Visitor Information

  • His birthplace at 224 South Second Street, Winterset, Iowa 50273, is open to the public daily from 10 AM until 5 PM. December through February, the hours are 10 AM to 4 PM.
  • Since our visit, a 6,100 square foot museum is now adjacent to the tiny home. The official opening was May 23, 2015. As of August 2021, adult tickets for the home and museum now cost $15, seniors 60+ $14, ages 8 to 12 are $8, 7 and under is free. Tour groups of 20+ cost $10 each.

Restoration of the kitchen and parlor has taken place. Authentic furnishings are there to showcase what the appearance would have been like in 1907. There are hundreds of photos of The Duke and other memorabilia to be viewed.

Nickname

Duke was a nickname that he got, which followed him all of his life. The account of just how he got the name is fascinating.

He used to walk to school but left his dog, Duke, at a nearby fire station. The firemen knew the dog's name but not the boy's name. So when the men at the fire station saw the young boy, they started calling him Duke. The name stuck, and he was lovingly nicknamed Duke for the rest of his life. If someone many years later used the term "The Duke," everyone knew who they meant.

Duke was an attractive young man with a 6 foot and 4-inch frame. He was spotted and received his first acting job in 1928 at Fox Studios, where he worked as an extra for a while. He earned a salary of $75 per week.

He was going to the University of Southern California and thought that he wanted to become a lawyer. For help with paying for his room and board, he washed dishes while in school. When the movie offers started coming, he gave up his former idea of a career.

Movies

Some of the first movies the Duke played a part in include "Salute" and "The Big Trail." One of his producers did not like Marion or even the Duke name and renamed him John Wayne, which he thought was a more American-sounding name and a better moniker for the movies. John Wayne, he became for the rest of his years, including his nickname, which also stuck.

The movie Stagecoach was his breakthrough film, and after that, he started getting starring roles.

He was in some 200 movies, many of which are still well known and loved today by fans. A partial listing reads like a history lesson of our historic western past and includes such films as follows:

  • True Grit
  • Rio Lobo
  • Stagecoach
  • The Alamo
  • Rio Bravo
  • The Oregon Trail

These movies are a mere sampling of the films in which John Wayne played a part. He was known for his swaggered way of walking and his deep, distinctive voice.

John Wayne Tribute (with El Dorado sung by George Alexander)

Politics

Politically he was a conservative and a Republican. He supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, among others, and spurned offers to enter politics personally. He made his feelings known through his efforts on behalf of others, including his staring in some films. Some of his work was not always popularly received.

Although he did not enlist in the war effort as other actors did, he personified commitment and bravery in many war films.

His Love of America

John Wayne was known for speaking his mind about how he felt about his country. He authored a book titled America Why I Love Her. He encouraged people to concentrate on "the good things about America" and "nurture her strengths and strengthen her weaknesses…"

Sure I wave the American flag. Do you know a better flag to wave? Sure I love my country with all her faults. I'm not ashamed of that, never have been, never will be.

— John Wayne

Why John Wayne Loves America

What to Know About John Wayne

From visiting his birthplace in Winterset, Iowa, we learned the following:

  • Maureen O'Hara went before Congress to urge them to strike a medal in his honor. Many other people of note also testified as to wanting this honor bestowed upon the Duke. Congress authorized it, and President Carter approved it in 1979. The inscription reads: "John Wayne – American."
  • John Wayne had three marriages and ended up with seven children and twenty-one grandchildren during his lifetime. He ended up owning several ranch homes, a jet airplane, and a 135-foot yacht called "The Wild Goose."
  • He received several awards in his lifetime. After his death, Congress awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest honors bestowed upon a civilian.
  • John Wayne epitomized the spirit of patriotism and has been dubbed "The Great American" by many.

Winterset, Iowa

The town still has many buildings from the late 1800s and has a beautifully constructed courthouse that dominates the small town.

Is viewing the birthplace of this most famous film star known as John Wayne worth a visit? We thought so, and my mother, niece, and I carried away memories of this "Great American," the Duke, with a little more perspective about his humble and straightforward past and his lifetime achievements.

TRUE Courage is when you are scared to death and STILL saddle up and ride in!

— John Wayne

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday.

— John Wayne

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments Are Welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 13, 2021:

Hi Sandra,

I am happy to know that you enjoyed learning about the birthplace of John Wayne. I appreciate your comment.

Sandra on February 13, 2021:

Another fine post Peggy. This really adds excellent information about the American icon - John Wayne.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 11, 2017:

Hi Susie,

It truly was a treat getting to see where John Wayne was born. It was a very modest house. He truly became a legend loved by many people. Appreciate your comment and the share.

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on February 11, 2017:

John Wayne will always be legend to us, and I hope the generations after us will feel the same way. I would be honored to visit his birthplace. I really love this article and photos and so much information, Peggy. I'm sure friends who are fan his will agree...will share!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 08, 2014:

Hello GetitScene,

So glad that I could fill in a little background information as to where John Wayne grew up. Glad to know you liked reading this.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 07, 2014:

Hi oldiesmusic,

Yes, Winterset is definitely a charming little town in Iowa and it is nice that the birthplace of John Wayne is being preserved.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 06, 2014:

Hi Mary,

I checked all the videos and all but the last one works. Will go in and delete it. I wonder if he knew he was dying when he played that dying man? Thanks for the votes and shares.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 03, 2014:

John Wayne is my absolute FAVORITE so THANK YOU for this!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 02, 2014:

Hi Nadine,

So happy to be able to fill in a little background information about John Wayne. Glad you liked it.

oldiesmusic from United States on July 31, 2014:

This is really, really nice, glad that John Wayne's little home is faithfully and lovingly preserved. I thought he was drafted into the army like any other actors but found out here that he wasn't. Thanks for that wonderful information about him. Winterset is rather a quaint charming little town indeed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 31, 2014:

Hi Sharon (moonlake),

So glad you enjoyed seeing his birthplace since you and your husband have enjoyed seeing so many of his movies. Thanks for the share.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on July 31, 2014:

I tried to play the video you enclosed, but couldn't. I always loved the Duke. His last (I think) was The Shootist with Laureen Bacall. He played a dying man and in real life he was dying, too.

My hubby, Doc, was a great fan, too, and had many photos and posters of him.

Voted Up, etc. and shared.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on July 31, 2014:

Great hub all about John Wayne. Its entertaining to read the background of movie stars. Well done.

moonlake from America on July 30, 2014:

Thanks for sharing enjoyed your hub. My husband and I have always loved John Wayne movies. Voted up and shared.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 27, 2014:

Hi Kate Doyle,

My brother loved him also. Appreciate your comment.

Kate Doyle on July 27, 2014:

John Wayne has & always been my inspiration in life since childhood ,God Bless to Him

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 06, 2014:

Hi Au fait,

My brother was a great John Wayne fan but I am sure that there are youngsters...especially those who do not watch old westerns...who may not know of him. Thanks for the pin and share.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 06, 2014:

Hi Peg,

"The Duke" came from very humble beginnings as one can see by touring this small house in Winterset, Iowa. Glad you enjoyed reading this hub.

C E Clark from North Texas on July 05, 2014:

Stopped by to pin this excellent and interesting article to Awesome HubPages and to share it again with followers. It's been a while and I think there may be people out there who do not know who The Duke was.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on July 05, 2014:

Loved learning more about "The Duke" and seeing his hometown and birthplace. This was awesome.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 05, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

Yes, he certainly came from a modest background. Thanks!

C E Clark from North Texas on August 01, 2013:

Very interesting and great photos! I've seen a lot of John Wayne movies. :) Interesting to see how people who become bigger than life start out like most people in assuming homes in ordinary neighborhoods . . .

Voted up, interesting, pinned, and will share!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 20, 2012:

Hi Sheila,

Oh you poor dear! A husband that looks like Tom Selleck? I guess things could be worse! Haha! Interesting that both your Dad and your husband have been called "Duke." Happy to have been able to share the home and town of Winterset, Iowa...John Wayne's birthplace with you. Thanks for your votes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 20, 2012:

Hi Alastar,

I missed seeing John Wayne in an I Love Lucy episode. That must have been a good one! Coonskin caps were all the rage when my brothers were small kids back in the 1950's. Happy to be able to show you where this famed movie star grew up in his early childhood days. Thanks for the share.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on November 20, 2012:

I have always loved John Wayne. I have watched all of his movies. My dad was refered to as "The Duke" much of his life as he looked a lot like him. He had that "side ways" smile and was built like hime too. My husband was named after John Wayne as has also been called "Duke" by many of his friends. My hubby actually looks like Tom Selleck instead of John Wayne, but oh well. This was a great article! Not only was he a great actor, but a great man as well. I enjoyed learning more about him. Voting up and interesting! :)

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on November 19, 2012:

How about that Maureen O'Hara going before Congress to ask for a medal to be struck for the Duke. They were fun to watch in McClintock. Really enjoyed finding out about Wayne's early years in Iowa and the house. I haven't seen a lot of his films but the ones I have seen are memorable. Do you remember him in an I Love Lucy episode, Peggy? Let's see, the coon-skin cap was worn on the Alamo, right! Or maybe it was a great 1939 one called Allegheny Uprising. Hey, I've seen more of his flicks than I thought! Sharing the Duke my friend!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 18, 2012:

Hi ImKarn23,

Many people loved the images that John Wayne portrayed. He certainly had a distinctive voice and swagger to his walk. Nice to be able to show you his childhood home and town of Winterset, Iowa. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 18, 2012:

Hi rajan jolly,

Happy to be able to show you the little house where John Wayne lived as a child and also photos of the town. One of my brothers used to be the biggest John Wayne fan ever! He had collected just about all of the movies in which the "Duke" starred and also had artwork of the Duke's image on his walls. Thanks for your votes and share.

Karen Silverman on November 18, 2012:

Wow..this hub is ageless! As is The Duke! Now - this was a REAL man - he talked the talk and walked the walk..

I love that in a guy - or in a gal, for that matter..LOL..

thanks for the John Wayne 101 cyber-lesson!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on November 17, 2012:

Interesting knowing about the Duke. I loved him in 'True Grit' for which he won the best actor award. Nice watching the pictures of the house he was born in.

Excellent write, Peggy. Voted up, interesting and awesome. Shared.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 18, 2012:

Hi JamaGenee,

Hooray! Now your Clark Tower hub will be linked to this John Wayne birthplace hub...both of which are set in Winterset, Iowa. Thanks!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on January 18, 2012:

Peggy, the HP gremlins finally allowed me to add a link to this hub to the Clark Tower hub. Yay!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 04, 2011:

Hi JamaGenee,

From what you say, I am glad that we saw Winterset and John Wayne's birthplace before all the hoopla took place. I liked it just the way it was.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 03, 2011:

Winterset was already changing even while the movie was being made. Having celebrities around and visions of $$$ pouring in from tourism after the movie came out, etc. Wasn't such a thrill *after* the town was overrun with tourists who only wanted BoMC souvenirs and couldn't care less about the real charms of Winterset OR that it was the Duke's birthplace. Somewhere I have a copy of a newspaper article that explains the transformation such towns go through before, during, and after being used as a movie location, or just happen to be the location of a wildly popular best-seller.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 03, 2011:

Hi JamaGenee,

We must have seen it before the movie also as Winterset seemed to just be a charming little town. Speaking of tiny...that home where John Wayne would have lived for a time is REALLY tiny! Will check out your hub. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2011:

Hi Don,

Glad that I could tell you a bit about John Wayne that you did not know. My husband, like you, was also born in Des Moines. Small world! Thanks for your comment and votes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2011:

Hi Gail,

Thanks for commenting on this John Wayne hub. Many people loved him. It was fun to see where he lived as a child in Winterset, Iowa.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 02, 2011:

A friend and I came upon Winterset almost by accident. Since the neighbor watching my kids for the weekend was a HUGE JW fan, we pretty much had no choice but to go into it after seeing the huge sign "Home of John Wayne" out on the highway! If memory serves, the Morrison home was closed by the time we got there that day, so I could only snap a few pix to take back to the neighbor. But we loved Winterset so much that we went back several times, once ONLY for the Saturday night Steak Special at the Northside Cafe on the town square! If memory serves, it was before filming started on "Bridges of Madison County" and the cafe hadn't yet been "cleaned up" for the shots you see in the movie. There are pix of the Northside and the town square in my Wild Weekend in Iowa hub at https://discover.hubpages.com/travel/Through-The-L...

That time or another we did tour the Morrison home, and it IS tiny! Hardly big enough for one person let alone a growing family!

Is Winterset worth a visit? Oh my, yes! But keep in mind that ATM (After The Movie), it lost a lot of its small town America charm and many of the really neat stores around the square became mainly souvenir shops. We were lucky enough to see it before the transformatoon took place. ;D

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 02, 2011:

I don't think I knew he came from Iowa.Since I was born in Des Moines I have that much in common.That house is interestingly unusual.voted up,interesting and beautiful.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on December 02, 2011:

Great hub about a great American actor. I always loved John Wayne. The second tribute video was awesome and reminded me all over again why I loved him so much.

Voted up across the board except for funny.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 17, 2010:

Hello David Schaffner,

One of my brothers was also a HUGE John Wayne fan. He had everything available on film and had pictures of the Duke on his walls. Were he still alive, he would have loved seeing what you have collected and the two of you could probably have conversed for days on end. Winterset is a charming little town. Nice that you got to meet his son Ethan. Thanks for your comment!

David Schaffner on August 17, 2010:

Been a fan of the duke for about thirty years and like to correspond with other duke fans.I also collect autographs and started collecting autographs of the charactor actors who worked alongside him in his countless endeavors.I have so many that I have compiled about three binders and also have a room dedicated to his great memory.I also enjoy film festivals and getting autographs.Was at winterset in 2007 for his birthday celebration.His son Ethan signed a still for me and said that he wished his Dad was there to sign it too.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 30, 2009:

Hello loveroflife,

Many of us have small town origins like John Wayne did in Iowa. For certain, I did, although it was in Wisconsin instead of Iowa. Good profession...that of being a pharmacist. Thanks, as always, for your comment.

loveroflife on September 27, 2009:

The pictures of Winterset, Iowa remind me of my early years living in similar towns. And, like John Wayne, my parents were also pharmcists.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 09, 2009:

I nicomp,

Happy to have shown you the birthplace of John Wayne so that you can add Winterset, Iowa to your vacation next year. It is a tiny house but all of the photos and other things inside will interest you since you are a fan of The Duke.

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

nicomp really from Ohio, USA on August 09, 2009:

Love The Duke. Will add this museum to next year's vacation. Thanks!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 22, 2009:

Hi prasetio30, Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on June 22, 2009:

Thanks for share. Great picture. I like it

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2009:

Hi James,

John Wayne had such a distinctive look, walk and speech. Having a grandfather that looked and acted like him must have been fun for you. John Wayne is a part of American history and has left behind quite a legacy including a postage stamp in his honor; the Congressional medal; his book that he authored as well as many others written about him and his long list of films. Nice to know that you enjoyed this hub and also the photos of Winterset. Thanks for commenting.

James A Watkins from Chicago on June 20, 2009:

I loved John Wayne.  My Paternal Grandfather looked like him and acted like him!  He was a patriot—apparently some have lost sight of what the word means.  It means he loved his country.  Anybody who doesn't love America has no concept of history, or of the true nature of humankind.  Thanks for a joyous journey.  Loved the pics of Winterset, too.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2009:

Hi Ethel, He certainly gave people a number of films in which to choose a favorite! Once Stagecoach came along, his career soared. I honestly haven't seen a John Wayne movie in so long a time, it would be hard for me to choose a favorite. Would have to refresh my memory. What is seared into my memory bank from childhood is the Alamo. Just the story and brave stand of the few men at the end... Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2009:

Hi Kiran,

My memories of him and his movies are mostly from my childhood. I never collected movies nor idolized him (like my one brother did). Since his birthplace was not far off the road from where we were traveling, we decided to stop and see it...mostly so my brother could see the photos. Decided to share this with fellow hubbers as a point of interest. Thanks for commenting as you always do.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 20, 2009:

Hubby is still a huge fan of Wayne. He was not really my sort of actor but I loved True Grit and The Quiet Man

kiran8 from Mangalore, India on June 19, 2009:

Great hub, but honestly I did like John Wayne's movies, probably because there were many great actors during his time, who overshadowed him...

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 19, 2009:

Hi Pete,

You are absolutely correct in pointing out these things about John Wayne. There is some speculation that he became such an outspoken "lover" of America because of some guilt over NOT having entered the war along with many of his other actor companions. And he DID play an active role during the McCarthy era with the House Unamerican Activities Committee and got some actors blacklisted. I believe many people lived to regret those days and their part in that...but hindsight is always the great teacher.

This hub was merely showing his birthplace and some history of what he had achieved during his lifetime. He has this lingering persona as being a great American patriot and because of his book and many war movies, this will be the impression that most people will always have of him.

The information you imparted is included in some of the links I attached to this hub. Whatever people thought of his personal life, he certainly was a part of some great and lasting movies that will live on through time.

Thanks for your informed comment. I'd be proud to do a hub about Jimmy Stewart's birthplace...but I have not been there. LOL

Pete Maida on June 19, 2009:

I'm afraid I can't agree that John Wayne was anymore a patriot that anyone else. He managed to stay out of war, unlike Jimmy Stewart. He did like to play the war hero. His attitude toward protesters was more facist than American. His role as an investigator for the House Unamerican Activities Committee suit him well. He was a McCarthy type. One to lock up anyone that didn't agree with the government.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 18, 2009:

Hello Enelle, Very happy to have shared these photos with you and other John Wayne lovers out there. Thanks for leaving a comment.

Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on June 18, 2009:

Great hub! Loved The Duke, I think I saw every movie he ever made...at least twice LOL...Great pictures - thanks for sharing them with us...almost as good as being there.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 18, 2009:

Hi Rochelle, That he certainly was...a film icon of monumental proportions. Your grandmother must have traveled to Winterset many years ago if she had that souvenir. Perhaps they still sell similar items there? My photos are always my best souvenirs. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on June 18, 2009:

He was ceratinly an American film icon. I saw many of his movies. Winterset-- and the family home certainly represent a nostalgic vision of earlier times. I used to have a little heart shaped dish that said "Souvenir of Winterset, Iowa". I think it was sold in a garage sale.It may have belonged to my grandmother. I wish I had kept it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 18, 2009:

Hi TamCor, Glad I could fill in a few details for you. Winterset is a beautiful little town.......and the covered bridges in that county are worth a look also. Thanks for your comment.

Tammy Cornett from Ohio on June 18, 2009:

What a neat hub--I learned a lot that I didn't know before about John Wayne-thanks so much for writing this!

I've always been a fan of his, so it's wonderful to read a bio on him and his birthplace--looks like a great place to visit!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 18, 2009:

Hi Candie, I had a brother just like you...also had all of his films and was a huge fan. I think most people thought that he was a great man. In fact, one of the statistics I read about him is that he is one of the three most loved actors of all time (even now that he is deceased he keeps that ranking.) Thought perhaps people might like to see his birthplace. Thanks for your quick comment.

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on June 18, 2009:

I loved John Wayne!! Winterset sounds like the name of a lovely place to live. My brother-in-law has all of his films..a huge fan! He was a rare one, larger than life. Great hub Peggy!

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