James McClintock was born and raised on a farm in Whigville in Noble County, Ohio, September 9, 1881. Whigville no longer exists. He graduated from Ohio State University in 1906 with a bachelor's degree in agriculture, and in 1929, he earned a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin. Upon graduation from Ohio State, he worked briefly in a Noble County bank, then worked about two years as a scientific assistant in the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Soils in Washington, D.C.
In September 1907, he became an assistant professor of agronomy at the University of Maine. After two years in Maine, he rejoined the government in Washington as a specialist in agricultural education in the Bureau of Education at the Department of the Interior.
From 1910 to 1914, he was an agriculturalist for the International Correspondence School in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While there, he wrote and edited 15 volumes on agriculture for the International Library of Technology. His experience with correspondence courses brought him back to Ohio State in 1914 as supervisor of publications and later as extension editor, a position he held until he retired in 1950. He retired with the academic rank of professor emeritus. Memberships included Gamma Sigma Delta and Alpha Zeta, agricultural fraternities and Epsilon Sigma Phi.
He died in Columbus on October 2, 1962, at the age of 81.