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National Rivers Hall of Fame Inductees

Hall of Fame inductees are the pioneers, explorers and artists in America's river history. They were movers and shakers from the days gone by and the recent past. These men and women made significant contributions related to America’s rivers, which is why we honor them.


The River People

William Harry Clarence Elwell

Inducted in 2021.

William Harry Clarence Elwell (1866-1949) moved with his wife and kids to McGregor, Iowa, in 1893. Having worked as a traveling salesman in St. Louis prior to the move, he had experience in the business world. Two years after their move north, he began investing his efforts in the pearl industry. In 1895, he obtained a few pearls from a local fisherman. Elwell traded these pearls for cash and kept investing. His side hustle quickly evolved into a profitable business.

His network reached from the Midwest to the east coast, Europe, the Middle East, India, and beyond. However, the Japanese started becoming players in the industry in 1928. Elwell sustained this push and continued on what would become a nearly 40-year run as the pre-eminent pearl dealer in the world. His work in this field put the upper Mississippi River region on the international map.

Although he was a known businessman, Elwell was in tune with wildlife and nature. He was an acclaimed naturalist with an extensive collection of specimens turned out by his taxidermy skills and was knowledgeable of flora and fauna in the region. Education was a top priority in his life. He was partly responsible for founding the American Wildlife School in McGregor, and his children attended college at universities as far away as New York City.

W.H.C. Elwell remained a vibrant and eventually the only freshwater pearl dealer on the Upper Mississippi until his death in 1949. His dedication to the pearl industry, education, nature, and his family set a high standard for others during this era.