[Back to Formatted Version]

Ralph I. Gifford Photographs, circa 1910s - 1947

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

Collection Overview

Title: Ralph I. Gifford Photographs, circa 1910s - 1947

Predominant Dates: 1935-1947

ID: P 218-SG 2

Primary Creator: Gifford, Ralph I.

Extent: 2.5 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The Ralph I. Gifford Photographs are arranged in 9 series: I. World War I Views of Whiddy Island, Ireland, 1918; II. Gifford Family, circa 1920 - circa 1930; III. Nitrate Negatives, circa 1910s - circa 1935; IV. Numbered Series, circa 1935 - 1947; V. Highway Commission Photographs, 1936-1946; VI. Postcard Photographs, circa 1935-1945; VII. Coastal Bridges, circa 1936; VIII. Un-Numbered Photographs, circa 1935 - 1947; and IX. Color Transparencies, circa 1937 - 1947.

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Ralph I. Gifford Photographs consist of images taken by Gifford throughout Oregon, primarily during the 1930s and 1940s. The photographs depict many Oregon landmarks and scenes, including the Oregon Coast, Crater Lake, Mount Hood, the Wallowa Mountains, and the Snake River Canyon. The collection includes numerous images of sport fishing as well as several photographs of Native Americans. Ralph Gifford was the son of Benjamin A. Gifford and took over his father's Portland photography business around 1920. In 1936, Ralph became the first photographer of the newly established Travel and Information Department of the Oregon State Highway Department, a position he held until his death in 1947.

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

Scope and Content Notes

The Ralph I. Gifford Photographs consist of images taken by Gifford throughout Oregon, primarily during the 1930s and 1940s. Many of Ralph Gifford's landscape photographs complement those he took for the State Highway Commission, as they were taken at the same time. He extensively photographed the Oregon Coast, Crater Lake, Silver Falls, Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge, the Pendleton Round-Up, the Wallowa Mountains, and the Snake River Canyon. Many of his photographs were made into postcards or view sets, which were sold at souvenir shops throughout the state.

Gifford also photographed the Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls, and the Columbia River Highway; the Oregon State Capitol and other state buildings in Salem; the Oregon Caves; highway bridges on the Oregon coast; and Oregon agriculture, especially orchards and ranches. Several Oregon rivers are depicted in the collection, including the Chetco, Imnaha, John Day, McKenzie, and Rogue Rivers as well as numerous Cascade Mountain lakes. Scenes of Portland, Brookings, and Salem are part of the collection. The collection includes numerous images of sport fishing and fishermen as well as several images of Native Americans, especially participating in the Pendleton Round-Up. Chief Clarence Burke, of the Umatilla Indians, is depicted in several photographs. Images of Gifford's wife, Wanda, and children are part of the collection.

The collection includes photographs Gifford took while stationed at Whiddy Island, Ireland, in the U.S. Navy during World War I. These images depict fellow servicemen, the local people of Whiddy Island, houses and structures, and landscapes and towns on the island.

The bulk of the collection consists of film negatives (853 items) and prints (902 items). Film negatives are predominantly 4x5 format; however, 5x7 and 8x10 formats are also included. The prints include 8x10 and larger sizes as well as postcard prints. The collection also includes 256 nitrate negatives, 22 glass negatives, and 56 color positive transparencies.

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

Biographical / Historical Notes

Born in Portland, Ralph I. Gifford (1894-1947) worked in his father's (Benjamin A. Gifford) photography studio as a boy and accompanied his father on photography trips around Oregon. He married Wanda Muir Theobald in 1918 and spent the last part of World War I in the U.S. 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 its 1941 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."

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 2089 photographs ; 17 boxes, including 2 oversize boxes, 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 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 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 containing Ralph Gifford's work include the Extension and Experiment Station Communications Photograph Collection (P 120), Clackamas County Jersey Cattle Club Scrapbook (MSS ClackamasCattle), Roland G. Holmes Collection of Oregon and Washington Postcards (P 283), Gerald W. Williams Collection (MSS WilliamsG), Edwin Russell Jackman Photographic Collection (P 089), and the John E. Smith Collection (MSS SmithJE).

Photos taken by Ralph Gifford for the State Highway Commission can be found at the Oregon State Archives in the records of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

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 Photographs (P 218-SG 2), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.

Processing Information:

We acknowledge that materials in SCARC collections and the language that describes them may be harmful. We are actively working to address our descriptive practices; for more information please see our SCARC Anti-Racist Actions Statement online.

SCARC describes the contents of its collections using the language and terminology of the collections themselves. Since culturally acceptable terminology shifts over time, some of the terms that appear in these materials are currently outdated or offensive.

Historically, "squaw" has been used as a misogynist and racist slur to disparage indigenous American women. Within this historic usage, it has been applied to place names, and scientific or colloquial names for plants. In this collection, the term "squaw" is used in the context of Panicum virgatum or "squaw grass". The term is also used to describe an image of Native American women at the Pendleton Round Up.

In order to provide historical context and to enable standardized searching and access across our collecctions, we have retained the use of this phrase in the collection description. We acknowledge the racism represented by this language and the harm it may cause our users. Providing access to these historical materials does not endorse any attitidues or behavior depicted therein. For more information on impacted collections, see the blog post.

[Date of Acknowledgement: December 2023]

Other URL: A preliminary container list was created for this collection on or before December 1, 2015.


Gifford, Ralph I.
Ager, Cecil V.
Oregon. State Highway Department

People, Places, and Topics

Brookings (Or.)
Burke, Clarence
Cascade Range
Chetco River (Or.)
Columbia River
Columbia River Gorge (Or. and Wash.)
Columbia River Highway (Or.)
Crater Lake (Or.)
Gifford, Ralph I.
Gifford, Wanda.
Hells Canyon (Idaho and Or.)
Hood, Mount (Or.)
Imnaha River (Or.)
Indians of North America--Columbia Plateau.
Landscape photography--Oregon.
Multnomah Falls (Or.)
Natural Resources
Oregon--Description and travel.
Oregon Caves National Monument (Or.)
Oregon Multicultural Archives
Oregon State Capitol (Salem, Or. : 1938-)
Pacific Coast (Or.)
Pendleton Round-Up
Portland (Or.)
Salem (Or.)
Silver Falls State Park (Or.)
Timberline Lodge (Mount Hood, Or.)
Wallowa Mountains (Or.)
Whiddy Island (Ireland)

Forms of Material

Color transparencies.
Film negatives.
Glass plate negatives.
Nitrate negatives.
Photographic postcards.
Photographic prints.

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