Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Ralph I. Gifford Motion Pictures, circa 1925-1940

Biographical Note:

Born in Portland, Oregon, Ralph I. Gifford (1894-1947) worked in his father Benjamin A. Gifford's photography studio as a boy and accompanied his father on photography trips around Oregon. Ralph married Wanda Muir Theobald in 1918 and spent the last part of World War I in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed at a naval base on Whiddy Island, Ireland, during part of his time in the Navy. Ralph took over his father's photography business around 1920 and sold it in 1928 to go into the motion picture business with F. C. Heaton in Portland.

In 1936, Ralph became the first photographer of the newly established Travel and Information Department of the Oregon State Highway Commission. His landscape views of Oregon's natural beauty were used for many years to promote tourism in the state. He also took motion pictures for the Highway Commission, including the color version of The New Oregon Trail, which was shown in every state in the U.S., and Glimpses From Oregon State Parks, released shortly before Ralph's death on June 23, 1947. His obituary, published in several Oregon newspapers in late June 1947, stated that "more than any other person, he is responsible for the tourist business in Oregon being an $83,500,000 business."

Ralph also took and sold photographs commercially; many of his commercial views were taken at the same time as his Highway Commission photos. His photographs could be purchased as postcards, view sets, individual prints, and photo-plaques. In a letter to the managing editor of U.S. Camera magazine, Ralph stated in 1943 that his work was "to visually educate the traveling public as to Oregon's scenic and vacation possibilities."

Harold B. Say was the first director of the Travel Information Division of the Oregon State Highway Department, serving in that capacity from 1935 to 1946.


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