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Willamette River Pollution Film, circa 1940

By Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Nielsen.

Collection Overview

Title: Willamette River Pollution Film, circa 1940

ID: FV 059

Primary Creator: Smith, William Joy

Extent: 0.05 cubic feet. More info below.

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Willamette River Pollution Film documents point sources of pollution in the Willamette River and its tributaries. The film has been digitized and is available online.

Scope and Content Notes

The Willamette River Pollution Film (FV059:1) is a 16 mm color, silent film (39 minutes) of various point sources of pollution in the Willamette River and its tributaries. The film begins near Springfield and progesses downstream to Portland and includes footage of various forms of industrial, agricultural, and municipal effluent being dumped into the Willamette River and its tributaries, including the Pudding and South Santiam Rivers. The footage includes tests of the length of time that small fish can survive in water from the Willamette River and chemical tests of the river water. The film includes footage of the river or its tributaries at Springfield, Eugene, Corvallis, Crabtree, Lebanon, Salem, Woodburn, and Portland. Among the individuals depicted in the film is Fred Merryfield, a faculty member in the Oregon State College School of Engineering and a founding partner of the CH2M Hill engineering firm.

The full film is available online as a streaming media file: View film.

Biographical / Historical Notes

The film was probably made by William Joy Smith, of Portland Oregon. Smith was State Manager of the National Life Insurance Company and President of the Oregon Wildlife Federation. It was made before establishment of the state Sanitary Authority and fostered much of the original interest in water quality in Oregon. The film may also have been known at the time of its creation by the title "Pollution in the Willamette".

In 1940 Smith was a member of the Portland Chamber of Commerce, State Manager of the National Life Insurance Company, and President of the Oregon Wildlife Federation.Smith produced his film as part of a push from citizens groups to convince the City of Portland to commence its proposed sewage disposal project. Portland city leaders placed an initiative to fund sewerage infrastructure on the same November 1938 ballot that included the proposal to create the Oregon State Sanitary Authority. However, nearly two years after both of these initiatives passed by a two-to-one margin, Portland city officials still had not taken any substantive steps to develop the necessary plans. Smith contributed to the efforts of state Izaak Walton League members and others increasingly frustrated with this lack of progress.

Members of the Sanitary Authority viewed Smith’s film at its December 13, 1940, meeting, as Authority members themselves continued to pressure Portland officials. The City of Portland finally commenced construction of a comprehensive interceptor system and sewage treatment plant in 1947, but Willamette River pollution from other sources continued to increase. At their November 4, 1949, meeting, the Sanitary Authority allocated $900 to re-print the film and provide a soundtrack.

Author: James Hillegas and Elizabeth Nielsen

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 1 film; 1 box

Statement on Access: Collection is open for research.

Related Materials: The Special Collections and Archives Research Center holdings include a variety of collections with documentary and visual materials pertaining to the Willamette River. The Pacific Northwest Stream Survey Collection (MSS PNWStream) includes numerous photographs of Willamette River tributaries made about the time of this film.

Preferred Citation: Willamette Pollution Film (FV 059), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

Processing Information: A digital duplication master (miniDV format) was made of this film in 2003. A VHS use copy is available for reference use.


Smith, William Joy

People, Places, and Topics

Corvallis (Or.)
Eugene (Or.)
Lebanon (Or.)
Local History
Merryfield, Fred, 1900-
Natural Resources
Portland (Or.)
Pudding River (Or.)
Salem (Or.)
Santiam River (Or.)
Springfield (Or.)
Water--Pollution--Oregon--Willamette River.
Water quality--Oregon--Willamette River--Measurement.
Willamette River (Or.)
Woodburn (Or.)

Forms of Material

Silent films.

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