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Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs, circa 1885 - circa 1920

By Finding aid prepared by Lawrence A. Landis (1998); updated by Elizabeth Nielsen.

Collection Overview

Title: Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs, circa 1885 - circa 1920

Predominant Dates: 1899-1919

ID: P 218-SG 1

Primary Creator: Gifford, Benjamin A.

Extent: 4.5 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs are arranged in 17 series: I. Native Americans, 1899-1908; II. Columbia River, 1899-1915; III. Columbia River Highway, circa 1915-1920; IV. Cascades, 1899-1904; V. Central and Eastern Oregon, circa 1900 - circa 1916; VI. Portland, Oregon, circa 1910 - circa 1920; VII. Shipbuilding, circa 1915; VIII. Logging and Timber, circa 1895-1915; IX. Farm and Ranch Scenes, circa 1905-1920; X. Businesses, circa 1903-1917; XI. Landscapes, circa 1895 - circa 1920; XII. Gifford Family, circa 1885-1919; XIII. Logos and mask charts, circa 1905- circa 1920; XIV. Studio and formal portraits, circa 1905 - circa 1920; XV. John Egan and wife camping, circa 1920; XVI. Unidentified informal portraits and other unidentified photos of people, circa 1905 - circa 1920; and XVII. Damaged Glass Negatives, circa 1905 - circa 1920.

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs consist of photographs made by Gifford during his career as a photographer in Portland and The Dalles, Oregon. The images depict Native Americans, primarily of the Columbia Plateau region; the Columbia River and the Historic Columbia River Highway; Central and Eastern Oregon; Gifford Family members; and many unidentified individuals and groups. Gifford arrived in Oregon and worked first in Portland until 1895, when he opened a studio in The Dalles. He returned to Portland in 1910.

Images from this collection have been digitized and are available in Oregon Digital.

Scope and Content Notes

The Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs comprise one of the components of the Gifford Photographic Collection (P 218) and include images of Native Americans; the Columbia River and the Columbia River Highway; the Cascade Mountains; The Dalles, the Deschutes River and other places in Central and Eastern Oregon; Portland, Oregon; and the Gifford family. These photographs include several well-known Benjamin A. Gifford images, such as Home Guard on the Columbia and Mount Hood from Lost Lake, both taken in 1899. Photographs of farm of ranch scenes and logging operations are part of the collection. Many unidentified formal portrait photographs and informal photographs of individual and groups are included in the collection. Several prints made by Ralph I. Gifford, his son, of Benjamin's negatives are included.

The bulk of the Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs are glass negatives (664). Most of these are 5x7, 6.5x8.5, and 8x10 glass negatives; however, there are also several 4x5 and 11x14 glass negatives. The collection includes 53 nitrate negatives and 1 film negative; 4 lantern slides; and 107 photographic prints and 26 photogravures. Some of the 5x7 glass negatives are stereoscopic negatives; these are indicated in the detailed description. The bulk of the prints were made in the 1980s-1990s after the collection was acquired by Oregon State University. The collection also includes printouts of low-resolution scans for a small portion of the negatives. These are not indicated in the detailed description.

Images from this collection have been digitized and are available in Oregon Digital.

Biographical / Historical Notes

Benjamin A. Gifford (1859-1936) was born in DuPage County, Illinois. After briefly attending Kansas Normal College, Benjamin worked for two years as an apprentice in a Ft. Scott, Kansas, photo gallery. He finished his apprenticeship in Sedalia, Missouri, under William LaTour, and then returned to Fort Scott to become a partner in a photo studio. Benjamin married Myrtle Peck in 1884; he and his wife moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1888 and by 1891 had started a photo studio across the street from the Hotel Portland. He was the first photographer in Portland to use electric lights for making enlargements.

About 1895 Benjamin moved to The Dalles and operated a studio there for several years, though he maintained strong ties to the Portland area. Gifford returned to Portland in 1910. His son Ralph I. Gifford took over operation of the studio around 1920. After his first wife died in 1919, Benjamin married Rachel Morgan, who had worked in his photography studio for several years. They moved to Clark County, Washington, soon after turning over the photography business to Ralph and settled in a home they called "Wa-ne-Ka," named after his famous photograph, "Sunset on the Columbia." Benjamin died on March 5, 1936.

Benjamin was well-known for his images of Native Americans, scenic views of the Columbia River and the Columbia River Highway, and views of central Oregon and Portland areas. He published Art Work of Oregon (1900), Art Work of the State of Oregon (1909), Art Work of Portland, Mt. Hood and the Columbia River (1912), and a view book titled Snap Shots on the Columbia (1902). In addition his work appeared in many promotional booklets issued by railroads, particularly the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company.

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 855 photographs; 49 boxes, including 1 oversize box, and 1 map folder

Statement on Access: Collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: The photographs were transferred from the Oregon State University Horner Museum to the University Archives in July 1996.

Related Materials:

This collection is one of seven related collections of visual materials created or assembed 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:  Ralph I. Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 2); Ralph I. Gifford Motion Pictures (P 218-SG 3); 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).

Other collections that contain Benjamin A. Gifford's work include the Extension Service Photographs (P 062), Edwin Russell Jackman Photographic Collection (P 089), Oregon State University Historical Photographs (P 025), and Visual Instruction Department Lantern Slides (P 217). Images by Gifford and his partner, Arthur Prentiss, are available online in the Gerald W. Williams Collection (MSS WilliamsG).

Images of Native Americans by other photographers are available online as part of the Oregon Multicultural Archives Digital Collection. Other photographs of Oregon landscapes are part of the Gerald W. Williams Collection (MSS WilliamsG) and the Roland G. Holmes Collection of Oregon and Washington Postcards (P 283).

Most of Benjamin A. Gifford's photographs are part of the Gifford Photographs Collection (Org. Lot 982) at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.

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

Preferred Citation: Benjamin A. Gifford Photographs (P 218-SG 1), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

Other URL: A preliminary container list was created for this collection on or before November 30, 2015.


Gifford, Benjamin A.
Gifford, Ralph I.

People, Places, and Topics

Cascade Range
Columbia River
Columbia River Highway (Or.)
Dalles (Or.)
Gifford, Benjamin A.
Gifford, Ralph I.
Hood, Mount (Or.)
Indians of North America--Columbia Plateau.
Natural Resources
Oregon Multicultural Archives
Pacific Coast (Or.)
Portland (Or.)
Waterfalls--Columbia River.

Forms of Material

Film negatives.
Glass plate negatives.
Lantern slides.
Nitrate negatives.
Photographic prints.
Stereoscopic photographs.

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