King, Clarence

King, Clarence,

1842–1901, American geologist, b. Newport, R.I., grad. Sheffield Scientific School, Yale, 1862. After serving as a volunteer assistant in the California state geological survey (1863–65, 1866), he persuaded Congress to appropriate funds for the Fortieth Parallel Survey (1867–72), of which he was made geologist in charge. For the survey's reports he wrote the geological sections of J. D. Hague's Mining Industry (1870), a classic in economic geology, and Systematic Geology (1878), a reconstruction of the geologic history of the Cordilleran region. He also exposed the great diamond hoax of 1872, determining that the mine had been salted. King was appointed (1879) director of the newly created U.S. Geological Survey, which he organized; in 1881 he retired to private practice as a mining engineer. His often fabulous Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (1872) is occasionally fable.


See biographies by T. Wilkins (1958) and R. Wilson (2006).

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King, Clarence

(1842–1901) geologist; born in Newport, R.I. After graduating from Yale (1862), he crossed the U.S.A. on horseback and joined the California Geological Survey (1863–66). He then took charge of a survey of territory from eastern Colorado to California (1866–67). His observations while directing the U.S. exploration of the 40th parallel (1867–78) resulted in his classic volume, Systematic Geology (1878); he is credited with introducing the use of contour lines on maps to indicate topographic features. He was instrumental in forming the U.S. Geological Survey and was then appointed its first head (1879–81). He entered private practice as a mining engineer (1881–93). Even his geological writings displayed his literary talents and he collected a series of Atlantic Monthly articles in Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (1872). While in Washington, D.C., he had become one of the so-called "Five of Hearts," an elite circle including Henry Adams and his wife, Marian Adams, and John Hays and his wife, Clara Hays. Only after his death did it come out that King had completely hidden from even his closest friends that in 1887 he had begun an affair with an African-American woman, Ada Copeland, in Brooklyn; he used the name John Todd with her and explained his frequent absences by claiming he worked as a railroad porter; eventually he married her and had five children with her. His classy friends, once they recovered from the shock of discovery, helped the family after his death.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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