Gifford Photographic Collection (P 218)
ca. 1890-1996
Apx. 10,000 photographic items, 1 motion picture film, and 1 cubic foot of documentary materials

Benjamin A. Gifford

Benjamin A. Gifford with his 8x10 view camera, ca. 1910. [OSU Archives P 218]

Scope and Content Note
The Gifford Collection consists of photographs taken by Ralph I. Gifford; his father, Benjamin A. Gifford; his wife, Wanda M. Gifford; and his son, Ben L. Gifford.

The Benjamin A. Gifford photographs, ca. 1890-1920, 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; and the Gifford Family. This series includes several well-known Benjamin A. Gifford images, such as "Home Guard on the Columbia" and "Mount Hood from Lost Lake," both taken in 1899. Except for the Native American images, the apx. 600 photographs in this group are primarily in glass negative format only.

The Ralph and Wanda Gifford photos constitute the bulk of the collection and consist of images taken throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest from the 1910s through the 1950s. Many of Ralph Gifford's photographs compliment 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 Roundup, the Wallowa Mountains and the Snake River Canyon between 1936 and his death in 1947. Many of his photographs were made into postcards or view sets, which were sold at souvenir shops throughout the state. Ralph Gifford's photographs also include several photographs he took while stationed at Whiddy Island, Ireland, in the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Wanda Gifford's photographs, which date from 1947 to 1958, document the changing face of post-war Salem, agriculture in the Willamette Valley, the northern Cascades in Washington, Glacier National Park in Montana, and family and friends. Like Ralph, she also took many photographs of Mount Hood and the Oregon Coast. Children were one of her favorite subjects. Both Ralph and Wanda's photographs include color transparencies of a variety of subjects.

The collection contains a 16mm color motion picture film, The New Oregon Trail, made by Ralph Gifford in 1941 for the Oregon State Highway Department to promote tourism.

Ben L. Gifford's photographs were taken between 1950 and 1955. They include scenes of Oregon State College and the Corvallis area taken during his senior year at OSC in 1950; photographs made for class projects while he was enrolled in the Fred Archer School of Photography in Los Angeles (1951), agricultural scenes in the Willamette Valley, and Mount Hood. Many of the agricultural scenes were published in trade publications such as Hoard's Dairyman Magazine, American Fruit Grower, and Farm Journal.

A small group of photographs consist of images taken by other photographers and images likely taken by Ralph, Wanda or Ben L. Gifford, but which do not include enough information to determine which photographer took them.

The documentary materials include biographical information on each photographer and other Gifford Family members (1897-1996), business records (1926-1957), publications which include Gifford photographs (1902-1987), photography and motion picture technical manuals and catalogs (ca. 1937-1953), an oil portrait of Ralph Gifford, and several ephemeral items and small artifacts.

Some photographs are arranged numerically; others are arranged by subject and format.

Most of the collection consists of 4x5 film negatives and prints of various sizes. The collection also includes 5x7 and 8x10 film negatives, glass negatives (3.5x5 to 11x14, including 5x7 stereoscopic), large format glass positives, lantern slides, and color transparencies (3.5x4.5 to 8x10).

Biographical Notes

Benjamin A. Gifford
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) and a view book titled Snap Shots on the Columbia (1902).

Ralph I. Gifford
Born in Portland, Ralph I. Gifford (1894-1947) worked in his father's 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."

Wanda M. Gifford

After Ralph Gifford's death in 1947, his wife, Wanda Muir Gifford (1894-1989) took over the family's photography business. Wanda, born in Florin, California, was a 1916 Oregon Agricultural College home economics graduate. She taught home economics in the Portland schools for several years. Ralph and Wanda Gifford had two sons, Ralph Arthur Gifford, who attended Oregon State College before his death in 1939, and Ben L., who carried on the family's photographic tradition for a third generation.

Wanda took and sold photographs from 1947 through the mid-1950s. Largely self-taught in photography, she worked primarily on weekends -- in addition to her job with the County Clerk's office in the Marion County Courthouse. "As Mr. Gifford preferred to photograph landscapes, I am very much interested in child photography," she wrote to a magazine editor about a year after Ralph's death. "With all those fine cameras and a complete laboratory left me I must carry on." Wanda also took many photographs of agriculture subjects, and as Ralph had done, marketed the family's photographs to trade publications, such as American Fruit Grower and U.S. Camera magazines, newspapers, advertising firms, and corporations.

Wanda retired from the Marion County Clerk's office in 1958 and lived in Salem for most of the remainder of her life. She died in Sublimity, Oregon, in 1989.

Ben L. Gifford
Ben L. Gifford (1923-1996) was born in Portland, Oregon. Like his father, he served in the U.S. Navy and during World War II spent 23 months in the South Pacific working as an aircraft mechanic. Ben married Beth Greenlee in 1946, and in 1950 he graduated from Oregon State College with a degree in business & technology. He studied photography at the Fred Archer School of Photography in Los Angeles in 1950 and 1951 and in May 1951 began helping his mother with the family photography business. Ben also worked as a photographer for the Jesten-Miller Studio in Salem, Oregon, from 1951 to 1955.

In the family's photography business, Ben specialized in agricultural photography, particularly of the Willamette Valley's renowned agricultural resources. And as his grandfather, father and mother had done previously, he frequently visited and photographed the Mt. Hood area, particularly Timberline Lodge and its recreational activities.

Three generations of Gifford photography began to come to a close when Ben took an engineering job with the State Highway Commission in 1955. He worked for there 27 years, retiring in 1982. Ben died in August 1996 in Bend.

The collection was donated to the Horner Museum in 1986 by Ben L. and Beth Gifford and transferred to the University Archives in July 1996.

Related Materials
Other collections that contain Benjamin A. Gifford's work include the Extension Service Photographic Collection (P 62), the E. R. Jackman Photographic Collection (P 89), and the Visual Instruction Bureau Lantern Slides (P 217). Other collections containing Ralph Gifford's work include the Extension and Experiment Station Communications Photograph Collection (P 120), the Clackamas County Jersey Cattle Club Scrapbook, and the Faculty and Staff Photographic Collection (P 46).

Most of Benjamin A. Gifford's photographs can be found at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. 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.

Shelf Locations
1/3/2 (prints, film negatives, and transparencies)
1/3/1 (oversize prints)
1/1/3-4 (glass negatives, positives, and lantern slides)
10/1/10 (nitrate film negatives)
SR 6/7/2 (documentary materials)


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