Albert E. Wood

Theropod trackway, Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, Wyoming, photo credit: Thomas Holtz

Albert E. Wood

Albert Elmer Wood was born on September 22, 1910, on the Cape May Peninsula of New Jersey, the youngest of four brothers. He was raised in a family stepped in three generations of military tradition, where intellectual achievement and public service were taken for granted, and where both parents had long, active and varied professional careers. 

He majored in geology at Princeton, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1930.  His undergraduate thesis was a general review of rodent taxonomy and evolution. With W.K. Gregory as his thesis advisor, Wood completed his PhD in 1934 from Columbia University, and then received a Cutting Travelling Fellowship which allowed him to visit and examine important museum and university collections of fossil rodents in the United States and Europe. The Fellowship also funded fieldwork at various early and mid-Tertiary fossil vertebrate localities in the western United States. 

Wood worked as a civilian geologist with the United States Army Corps of Engineers from 1936-1941. He served in the Unites States Army during World War II. After his final discharge from active duty in 1946, he accepted a teaching position at Amherst College, where he spent the remainder of his academic career. A number of Wood’s students went on to become professional vertebrate paleontologists including Craig Black, Dan Guthrie, John Storer, Jay Wilson, John Walhert, Fred Szalay and Wood’s own son, Roger Wood, a turtle paleontologist. 

Unofficially, Wood also served as curator of the vertebrate paleontological collections of Amherst College’s Pratt Museum of Geology, which included the famous “fossil bird” footprints.  Among his notable acquisitions were the type specimen of Franimys amherstensis, the oldest known rodent skeleton, and an extensive assemblage of material from the type locality for the Lysite fauna.  

Wood was a charter member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.  He served as the society’s Secretary/Treasurer (1958 and 1959), Vice President (1960), and President (1961).  Wood was elected an Honorary Member in 1977 and in 1998 was awarded the Romer-Simpson Medal, the Society’s highest award. 

Bibliography taken from: 

Wood, Roger. (1989) Biography of Albert Elmer Wood, Papers on Fossil Rodents: In Honor of Albert Elmer Wood, No. 33 Science Series, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.