J.W. Elwood - The Man the Myth

Submitted by Stephen on 1/23/01. ( stephen.rogers@home.com )

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 cource 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.

One footnote, in a similar post I was misquoted as giving Mr. Kish credit for starting the competitions. In essence, he simply popularized them as a technique to be a teacher. The first competition in the United States was in 1880 and had both Oliver Davie and William Hornaday enter pieces. For an illustration of the competition room refer to Breakthrough No. 35 page 108 in the article "A sense of History". Contained in the text of the article is even a definition of the term Taxidermologist.

Coincidentally, in the same magazine issue is an article with an interview with Joe Kish.

The popularity of the Elwood lessons were hard to believe. Even now there are opportunities to purchase them on a regular basis on E-bay. I have even seen the 1905 edition. However, I have never seen Taxidermy Review. Does anyone have a complete run of Taxidermy Review or Wide World of Taxidermy for sale?

The Taxidermologist

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Thanks for the informative post

This response submitted by Mick on 1/24/01. ( MicD63@aol.com )

Stephen ,
Thanks for the fine post. I came from that era, it occassionaly still shows up in my work too ;)~ , had to say it, and I did not realize the whole story behind the old northwest taxidermy U. Albeit, I hadn't given ol J.W. a thought in a lot of years. By the way, I've got an original set from '74, that I'll sell you cheap. I'm such a packrat, hell I've even got this old rolled parchement, can't make out the date, but something about 13 Colonies. I figured it was important, because of all the signatures at the end.


This response submitted by George on 1/24/01. ( georoof@aol.com )

Mick, seems you and I went to different schools together, huh. LOL

Stephen, thanx for that insight. I never knew any of that, but you have to give the devil his due. Bill Gates didn't HAVE to invent the computer, but he sure made it easier for everyone else to use (after he took Mackintosh's ideas, huh?) Edison didn't invent electricity and I'll bet you can't name a single history professor who actually lived during the epoch's they teach. That only upsets me more that a guy like Joe Kish didn't start the school. Maybe my mother wouldn't have been so mad when the fox I was boiling spilled on the kitchen floor or that magic powder I was using got mixed up for baking soda (now those were some NASTY biscuits). Keep up the good work. Even if you do burst some bubbles like mine. LOL

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