J.W. Elwood

Date of birth: February 20, 1875
Place of Birth: Hillsdale, Iowa
Date of Death: August 21, 1947
Place of Burial: Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, Omaha, Nebraska

James William Elwood founded the Northwest School of Taxidermy in 1903.  He was an avid sportsman and began learning taxidermy as a boy.  Alfred V. Burkley born in 1875 was president of the school. Elwood felt that taxidermy should not be kept a secret and went about creating lessons to share by mail correspondence.  Although it started out slowly the first year, it grew fast.  Many are familiar with the advertisements in Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and Boy’s Life, about how to learn taxidermy.

J.W. Elwood was the son of Samuel Harvey Elwood and Mary Matilda (Laird) Elwood. He married Louella Estelle (Butler) Elwood in March of 1898. They had one son, Samuel Elwood.

Folowing is an excerpt from Stephen Rogers’ post on Taxidermy.net from 2001 which helps explain J. W. Elwood’s place in the industry:

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J. W. Elwood’s Lessons In Taxidermy booklets which taught hundreds of thousands of taxidermy enthusiasts in the early 20th century.

I, like probably 98% of taxidermists who started taxidermy over 30 years ago, had their beginning with the old J.W. Elwood Northwestern Taxidermy Correspondance School. At the time I thought Professor Elwood originated the text and personally brought taxidermy to the common man (!) and was astounded when I found out the truth about the businessman/enterprenure. Enlightenment came when I read the interview with John Moyer in Taxidermy Review volume 6(2): 

Moyer: “Well now, J.W. Elwood, was not a taxidermist. He was either a teacher or a principle in a small school in Iowa and somehow got the rights to publish parts of Hornady’s books… I doubt, I won’t say he never mounted an animal, but I don’t think he did. … he had been in this thing since 1905, but see I don’t think he knew a thing about… I don’t think he was a practicing taxidermist.. I’m quite certain he wasn’t… But, he started this school and it was such a success..” 

It wasn’t until 5 years ago I was able to get a copy of the original Elwood Lessons – which were mimiographed booklets stapled at the top and opened like a tablet. It turned out that old Prof. Elwood actually also had the rights to reprint plates from Oliver Davie’s Book “Methods in tha Art of Modern Taxidermy” from 1894 (Reprinted 1900). The plates were renumbered but were reprinted exactly. It wasn’t until later editions that he reprinted pictures and illustrations from William T. Hornaday’s book published in 1891. From what I surmise, Elwood was the consumate businessman and made a killing “teaching” taxidermy to the common folk. When I took the course there were already 250,000 people who had paid the fee, and I imagine that there might have been well over 600,000 before Joe Kish came along and changed everything. Giving Elwood credit for taxidermy is like giving credit to Bill Gates for inventing computers.