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.
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 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.
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.
Ralph I. Gifford Motion Pictures (P 218-SG 3), Oregon State University Archives, Corvallis, Oregon.