William W. W. Wood was born in North Carolina. He received a commission in the U. S. Navy on March 15, 1845, entering with the rank of chief engineer. During his thirty-five year naval career, Wood was stationed at various naval installations and had a number of special duty assignments. His first post was the Navy Yard in Pensacola, Florida (1845-1847); he also served on the steam-frigate Saranac (1850-1853), the steam-sloop Lancaster (1859-1861), and in the New York Navy Yard (1868-1869). Wood's special duty assignments included Boston (1849 and 1864), Philadelphia (1858-1859 and 1862), New York (1863 and 1865), and the Naval Academy (October 1865-May 1867 as head of the steam engineering department). Described as a pioneer of the steam navy, Wood oversaw the construction of the engines of the steam-frigate Merrimac at Cold Spring, New York (1854-1857) and also served as inspector of machinery afloat (New York, 1870-1872) and engineer-in-chief of the Navy from 1872 to 1877. His last duty was as the chief engineer in the Bureau of Steam Engineering, Department of the Navy, with the rank of commodore. He was placed on the navy retirement list May 18, 1880. At the end of his naval career, Wood resided in Washington, D.C., at Ebbitt House.
William Wood was married and had five children, three daughters and two sons. All of his daughters married navy lieutenants and one son, Lieutenant Thomas Wood, served in the United States Marine Corps. He also was a stockholder in the Island and Seaboard Coasting Company.
During his naval career, Wood was the owner of "Jutland," a 520-acre tract of land located on Smith Creek in St. Mary's County, Maryland. "Jutland" produced hay and wheat and Wood also raised geese and hogs for market. He was very concerned with making "Jutland" a better-paying proposition and conducted fertilizer experiments to determine whether deposits of oyster shell and "blue" sand found on his property could be beneficial as a fertilizer for his corn crop. Wood also investigated the possibility of growing sugar cane and producing sugar at a profit and experiment with the McSherry Grain Drill, an improved farm implement for distributing grain and fertilizer.
On August 31, 1882, while crossing Smith's Creek in St. Mary's County, Maryland, with H. S. Taveau, their boat capsized. Although Taveau made an effort to rescue him, Wood drowned. His body was returned to Washington, D. C., on September 2, aboard the steamer "George Leary." Funeral services were held four days later at the Epiphany Church in Washington with great military pomp. The Marine Band and a detachment of one hundred marines escorted the funeral procession to Rock Creek Cemetery, where Wood was buried.
Accounts of Wood's death appear in the Washington Post, Saturday, September 3, 1882, St. Mary's Beacon, Tuesday, September 7, 1882, and the September 9, 1882, Army and Navy Journal.