[Back to Formatted Version]

Ralph I. Gifford Motion Pictures, circa 1925-1940

By Finding aid prepared by Lawrence A. Landis; updated by Elizabeth Nielsen.

Collection Overview

Title: Ralph I. Gifford Motion Pictures, circa 1925-1940

ID: P 218-SG 3

Primary Creator: Gifford, Ralph I.

Extent: 0.5 cubic feet. More info below.

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Ralph I. Gifford Motion Pictures consist of "The New Oregon Trail," a tourism film photographed by Ralph I. Gifford for the Oregon State Highway Department, and unedited motion film clips of a variety of subjects, including alpine search and rescue. Ralph I. Gifford became the first photographer of the Travel and Information Department of the Oregon State Highway Commission in 1936, a position he held until his death in 1947. All of the films in the collection have been digitized and made available online.

Scope and Content Notes

The Ralph I Gifford Motion Picture Films consist of The New Oregon Trail and unedited motion film clips of a variety of subjects.

The New Oregon Trail is a tourism promotion film presented by the Oregon State Highway Department. The production was supervised and edited by Harold Bradley Say, photographed by Ralph I. Gifford, and distributed by Castle Films. The 16 mm Kodachrome color film, with soundtrack, is approximately 22 minutes long (800 feet). A digital duplication master and DVD use copy are available. The film is also available for viewing online.

The New Oregon Trail consists of footage of scenic and recreational attractions in Oregon. It includes: Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa Mountains; Celilo Falls, Multnomah Falls, the Columbia River Highway, Columbia River Gorge, and Bonneville Dam; Portland street scenes, waterfront, and Rose Festival activities; the Oregon Coast, Astoria Regatta, Seaside, sea lions, and lighthouses; the Oregon Caves and Crater Lake; the Rogue, Umpqua, McKenzie, and Metolius Rivers and numerous mountain lakes; the Crooked River Gorge and Fossil Beds in central Oregon; a geyser near Lakeview; birds at Malheur Lake; guests at dude ranches; and skiing in the Blue Mountains and on Mount Hood. Scenes of Astoria, Bend, and Salem are also included. The film strongly promotes sport and commercial fishing on the Oregon Coast and in Oregon rivers, streams, and lakes. Of special note are scenes of Native Americans fishing at Celilo Falls; state parks throughout Oregon; highways and bridges, especially on the Oregon Coast; Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge; and the Pendleton Round-Up. Much of the footage in this film is similar to still photographs taken by Ralph I. Gifford.

The unedited film clips were filmed in about 1925-1935 and consist of 7 reels (3200 feet total length) of original 35 mm nitrate motion picture film negatives. The clips total about 35 minutes running time. A digital duplication master and DVD use copy of the clips are available. The full run of this footage is also available online as a single digital file.

The clips depict a variety of subjects. Many pertain to alpine search and rescue and may have been shot to produce a training film. These clips include footage of mountaineers on Mount Hood; staged rescue of an injured climber; use of a portable radio to call for assistance; and evacuation of the injured man by car and airplane. One of the rescuers is wearing a "Crag Rats Hood River" patch. The Crag Rats were founded in 1926 and are the oldest mountain search and rescue organization in the United States. The "mountain rescue" film has been edited for display by SCARC staffmembers and released online.

This unedited footage also includes scenes of Benjamin A. Gifford at his home at Salmon Creek, Washington; two young women with a motorized toy boat in a stream; a home, pond, and natural spring or water feature; a family at the beach; two boys (with their mother?) going to school; an airplane taking off and landing at the beach and in a field; footage of Mt. Hood shot during an airplane flight; and a radio operator. There is also footage of a traffic survey station and motor truck scale, perhaps in Portland, that includes weighing, measurement, and inspection of a Carstens truck.

Biographical / Historical Notes

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.

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 8 film reels; 1 box and 1 film can

Statement on Access: Collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: The motion picture films were transferred from the Horner Museum to the University Archives in July 1996.

Related Materials:

This collection is one of seven related collections of visual materials created or assembled by members of the Gifford family from the late 19th through mid-20th centuries that are part of the holdings of the Special Collections and Archives Research Center.  The other six collections are:  Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 1); Ralph I. Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 2); Wanda Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 4); Ben L. Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 5); Gifford Collection Photographs by Unknown or Other Photographers (P 218-SG 6); and Gifford Collection Documentary Materials (P 218-SG 7).

The Ralph I. Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 2) include many still photographs of the same locations and sites depicted in The New Oregon Trail film. Many of the photographs that Ralph Gifford made for the Highway Department are held by the Oregon State Archives in Salem. A collection of Harold B. Say Photographs are held at the University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives.

See also: The Gifford Photographic Digital Collection, a growing online repository of the Gifford Family photographers' documentation of Oregon from 1890-1950.

Preferred Citation: Ralph I. Gifford Motion Pictures (P 218-SG 3), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.


Gifford, Ralph I.
Castle Films, inc.
Oregon. State Highway Department
Say, Harold B.

People, Places, and Topics

Cascade Range
Celilo Falls (Wash.)
Columbia River
Columbia River Gorge (Or. and Wash.)
Columbia River Highway (Or.)
Crag Rats
Crater Lake National Park (Or.)
Gifford, Benjamin A.
Gifford, Ralph I.
Hood, Mount (Or.)
Indians of North America--Columbia Plateau.
McKenzie River (Or.)
Metolius River (Or.)
Mountaineering--Search and rescue operations--Oregon--Hood, Mount.
Natural Resources
Oregon--Description and travel.
Oregon Caves National Monument (Or.)
Oregon Multicultural Archives
Pacific Coast (Or.)
Pendleton Round-Up
Portland (Or.)
Rogue River (Klamath County-Curry County, Or.)
Timberline Lodge (Mount Hood, Or.)
Umpqua River (Or.)
Wallowa Mountains (Or.)
Waterfalls--Columbia River.

Forms of Material

Motion pictures (visual works)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.