A Guide to the The Road to Happiness Collection, 1924-2011 The Road to Happiness Collection MSS 14-01

A Guide to the The Road to Happiness Collection, 1924-2011

A Collection in The Fairfax County Public Library

Record Group Number MSS 14-01


Fairfax County Public Library
City of Fairfax Regional Library
Virginia Room
10360 North Street
Fairfax, VA 22030-2514 USA
Virginia Room: 703-293-6227 x6
Fax: 703-293-2155
Email: va_room@fairfaxcounty.gov
URL: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/branches/virginia-room

© 2016 Fairfax County Public Library. All rights reserved.

Fairfax County Public Library
Record Group Number
MSS 14-01
The The Road to Happiness Collection, 1924-2011
.25 linear feet
Barbuschak, Chris
The Road to Happiness Collection consists of .25 linear feet and spans the years 1924-2011 and consists of photocopies of news articles, oral history transcripts, a speech, and original documents of articles and video transcripts. Most of the collection consists of copies of news articles that document the release of The Road to Happiness, reactions to the film, and the search and re-acquirement of it. The speech, "Basic Principles of Highway Management and Finance" by Thomas H. MacDonald is a copy of the book that is given to Robert Preston in the movie. Oral history transcripts include memories from two Fairfax residents, Louise Harrison and Charles Bailey, who appeared in the movie. Also included is the original typed transcript of the narration of the film written by Stacy Sherwood. Subjects include the 1924 silent film The Road to Happiness; the Ford Motor Company; City of Fairfax, Virginia; and the history of roads in Fairfax County.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions


Use Restrictions

Consult repository for information

Preferred Citation

Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library. The Road to Happiness Collection. Box #, Folder #.

Acquisition Information

Collection assembled by Chris Barbuschak

Processing Information

Chris Barbuschak, 2015
EAD generated by Ross Landis, 2016

Historical and Biographical Information

In 1924, the Ford Motor Company released the silent film The Road to Happiness which showcased how poor roads contributed to losses suffered in daily life and the advantages that could be gained with good road improvements. The Bureau of Public Roads of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Highway Educational Board, and the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce assisted with the film’s production and promotion. The film essentially acted as propaganda to promote good roads for automobiles.

Ford Motion Picture Laboratories chose to film the movie in the Fairfax, Virginia area which had extremely poor road conditions at the time. While on location, an Army truck “lighting plant” used for filming even got stuck in the muddy roads. The film makes no reference to Fairfax, presumably to avoid offending local residents. Instead the area is referred to as make-believe Clay County.

The movie follows a farm boy, Robert Preston, whose daily life is heavily affected by the poor road conditions. Inspired to instigate change for good roads, his teacher encourages him to write an entry for the Harvey S. Firestone University Scholarship National Essay Contest on Good Roads and Highway Transport. Preston wins first prize which entitles a visit with President Calvin Coolidge who awards him with a four-year college scholarship. He uses the scholarship to study highway engineering and goes on to work for the Bureau of Public Roads. At the end of the movie, his hometown passes good road bonds and chooses him as their county engineer. Preston returns home a hero and works hard to improve the area’s roads.

The cast included President Calvin Coolidge, Harvey S. Firestone, Thomas H. MacDonald, Roy D. Chapin, members of the Highway Educational Board and other noted public officials. The unknown actor who portrayed Robert Preston was the only paid cast member. The remainder of the actors consisted of all local Fairfax residents. Those identified include Frank and Annie Matthews, Dr. Charles Fenton Russell, George F. Harrison, Sheriff Robert Allison, Milton Delaney Hall (Superintendent of Schools), Charles Bailey, and Louise Harrison (Navy Elementary School principal).

Local scenes that appeared in the film are the railroad depot at Fairfax Station, Old Town Hall, Fairfax Courthouse, the old Navy Elementary School, Frank and Annie Matthews’ farm on Thompson Road, and one of the first paved roads in Fairfax County - Little River Turnpike.

Ford Motion Picture Laboratories distributed the film throughout the country free of charge. Each of the Ford Motor Company’s branches in the United States received a copy which made the film available for use in schools and public meetings. Because the public had such a high demand for the movie, every Ford branch had to be resupplied with extra copies. Translated versions of the film also made it to Mexico, South America, and Europe.

The film instilled a positive reaction with the public. Ford received numerous letters thanking the company for making the movie. Many attributed it to inspiring many communities to realize the ultimate goal of the film: passing good roads bond issues.

After the movie’s initial release, it vanished for many years, but many Fairfax residents fondly recalled playing a role in it. Robert “Eddie” Wagstaff remembered seeing the film in one of the local theaters and he wrote to the Ford Motor Company with hopes of acquiring a copy of it. Unfortunately, Ford informed him that their early films remained uncatalogued and in poor condition making it impossible to locate and reproduce.

In 1963, Stacy C. Sherwood noticed an article in the Washington Evening Star that the Ford Motor Company had transferred its film archives to the National Archives. Sherwood informed Wagstaff who then contacted the National Archives. Wagstaff received a similar answer Ford had given him; the film remained uncatalogued and it needed to be identified first.

About a year later, the National Archives did find The Road to Happiness and invited Wagstaff to come and view it. Wagstaff brought along Sherwood and a few other local citizens to verify that it was truly the film they had been searching for. When Ford released the movie in 1924, the original motion picture consisted of three-reels of film. By the time it reached the National Archives, only 23 minutes could be salvaged because of the deterioration of the fragile nitrate film stock.

In 1964 Sherwood bought a copy of The Road to Happiness for the National Bank of Fairfax which sponsored numerous viewings. The bank later gave the copy to the City of Fairfax Regional Library which offered viewings until it completely wore out.

In 1983 the George Mason Bank bought a replacement copy of the film and donated it to Historic Fairfax City Inc. which made it available for purchase on VHS in 1985. Historic Fairfax City Inc. included a narrated introduction by then Mayor George A. Hammill and a piano soundtrack provided by Mort Langstaff. The City of Fairfax digitally enhanced The Road to Happiness in 2012 and it continues to be a source of fascination to those interested in a glimpse of old Fairfax.

Index Terms

  • Automobiles - History
  • City of Fairfax, Virginia
  • Fairfax County - Roads - History
  • Ford Motor Company
  • MacDonald, Thomas H.
  • The Road to Happiness (1924 silent film)
  • United States Bureau of Public Roads

Container List

Box 1
Folder 1
"Basic Principles of Highway Management and Finance" By Thomas H. MacDonald, Chief, U.S. Bureau of Public Roads , 1924 February
Box 1
Folder 2
"Basic Principles of Highway Management and Finance" By Thomas H. MacDonald, Chief, U.S. Bureau of Public Roads [typed transcript], 1924 February
Box 1
Folder 3
Ford News. "Latest Film Is Released", 1924 March 15
Box 1
Folder 4
Automotive Industries. "Ford Company Films 'Road To Happiness'", 1924 March 20
Box 1
Folder 5
Fairfax Herald. "Film Fairfax", 1924 March 21
Box 1
Folder 6
The Prescott Courier. "New Motion Picture Shows Value of Roads to Community", 1924 March 24
Box 1
Folder 7
The Official Record. "Public Roads Assists In New Films", 1924 March 26
Box 1
Folder 8
Good Roads. "'Road to Happiness,' New Motion Picture Showing Value of Highways to Community", 1924 April
Box 1
Folder 9
The Road to Happiness A Highway Motion Picture, 1924 April
Box 1
Folder 10
Utah Highways. "'The Road to Happiness,' a Highway Motion Picture", 1924 April
Box 1
Folder 11
Ford News. "A Way to Better Roads", 1924 April 15
Box 1
Folder 12
Ford News. "New Ford Film Meets Great Demand", 1924 May 15
Box 1
Folder 13
The Official Record. Portland USDA Club screening of "The Road to Happiness", 1924 May 21
Box 1
Folder 14
Colorado Highways. "Road To Happiness", 1924 June
Box 1
Folder 15
Supplement Community League News. "Highway Commission's Good Road Contest for 1925", 1925 March
Box 1
Folder 16
Ford News. "Film Helps Good Road Bond Issue", 1926 February 1
Box 1
Folder 17
The Evening Star. "Ford To Give Film Record To Archives", 1963 November 12
Box 1
Folder 18
Fairfax Herald. "Wagstaff Seeks Film", 1964 March 13
Box 1
Folder 19
Fairfax City Times. "Tea Leaves Tell Us…", 1967 January 12
Box 1
Folder 20
Interview with Holden and Ray Harrison and Louise Presgraves Harrison, 1979 February 5
Box 1
Folder 21
Interviews with Mrs. Louise Harrison and Mr. Charles Bailey, 1970 April 27 - May 6
Box 1
Folder 22
Interviews with Mrs. Louise Harrison and Mrs. Dorothy Hoge, 1970 May 10
Box 1
Folder 23
Springfield Connection. "The New Road To Happiness", 2011 January 20-26
Box 1
Folder 24
"Old Time Movie Shown At Fairfax Bank", Undated
Box 1
Folder 25
Fairfax Journal. "1924 film of Fairfax is plug for road money", Undated
Box 1
Folder 26
Road to Happiness, 1924. Transcript of narration for VHS edition [Written by Stacy Sherwood], Undated