Clarence King

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Clarence Rivers King (born January 6, 1842 in Newport , Rhode Island , † December 24, 1901 in Phoenix , Arizona ) was an American geologist . He was the first director of the US Geological Survey from 1879 to 1881 and is known as an explorer of the Sierra Nevada .

Clarence King


King's father, James Rivers King, had a company for foreign trade, especially with China , but died in 1848 and his mother, Florence Little King, got into financial difficulties afterwards when the family business of her late husband, which continued to support each other, was dissolved. King first attended school in Hartford , Connecticut and then went to Yale University (Sheffield Scientific School) with the degree in 1860. There he studied natural sciences, especially physics, chemistry and also geology with James Dwight Dana , but his real interest in geology first awoke after graduation, nourished by his enthusiasm for stays in the wilderness and in the mountains. He joined pre-Raphaelite artistic circles in New York City and lived there with James Terry Gardiner .

In 1863 he went to California to work at the forerunner California Geological Survey as an unpaid assistant under Josiah D. Whitney and William H. Brewer . His experiences as a mountaineer later flowed into his book Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (1872) and he climbed several mountain peaks in the Sierra Nevada such as Mount Tyndall , Mount Shasta and Mount Whitney . He worked there with his friend Gardiner, who had joined him, and was part of the expedition in September 1864 that explored the boundaries of the Yosemite Valley , which Abraham Lincoln made the first national park in the United States that same year . On the way back at sea via Nicaragua, he fell ill with malaria . In 1865 he explored the Mojave Desert and Arizona with Gardiner on behalf of the US military and in 1866 again Yosemite.

Of particular importance was an expedition along the 40th parallel across the American Cordilleras in 1867 , which was carried out on behalf of the Minister of War and under the direction of BRIG. and BAT. Major General AA Humphreys stood. In addition to King, the team included: Hague, Arnold, 1840–1917; Emmons, Samuel Franklin, 1841-1911; Hague, James Duncan, 1836-1908; Meek, Fielding Bradford, 1817-1876; Hall, James, 1811-1898; Whitfield, Robert Parr, 1828-1910; Ridgway, Robert, 1850-1929; Watson, Sereno, 1826-1892; Eaton, Daniel Cady, 1834-1895; Bien, Julius, 1826-1909. It led along the route of a planned transcontinental railway line, of which he was chief geologist, with the geologists Samuel F. Emmons and Arnold Hague (a fellow student from Yale) being his assistants and Gardiner also involved. King became the first director of the newly formed United States Geological Survey in 1879 , a role he only accepted to help set up the survey. In 1881 he gave the line to his chosen successor John Wesley Powell .

He then returned to his social life and was friends with statesmen such as Henry Adams and John Hay . His private employment in the mining industry was insufficient to finance his lavish lifestyle, and he was heavily in debt.

He became known in 1872 when he exposed a hoax involving diamond mines in Arizona. The scammers had offered the mines to investors in San Francisco and New York (including well-known names such as Tiffany's and Baron Rothschild ) and led their experts to a remote mountain that they had inoculated with industrial diamonds . King and his assistant Samuel F. Emmons independently controlled this and publicized the hoax. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences , the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . The King Peak in Antarctica is named after him .

King led a double life in his final years. He was married in New York since 1888 to the former slave and African-American nurse Ada Copeland, with whom he had five children. Until shortly before his death, he pretended to be a black railroad clerk by the name of James Todd, despite his appearance, as multiracial marriages were met with strong social reservations in New York at the time.


  • "Report of the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, made by order of the Secretary of War according to acts of Congress of March 2, 1867, and March 3, 1869" Made by Order of the Secretary of War according to Acts of Congress of March 2, 1867, and March 3, 1869, under the Direction of BRIG. and BVT. MAJOR GENERAL AA HUMPHREYS, Chief Of Engineers: CLARENCE KING, GEOLCGIST-IN-CHARGE. United States Government Printing Office.
  • The volumes appeared as follows: I. (1878) Systematic geology , by Clarence King .-- II. (1877) Descriptive geology , by Arnold Hague and SF Emmons .-- III. (1870) Mining industry , by James D. Hague, with geological contributions by Clarence King .-- IV. (1877) pt. I. Palæontology , by FB Meek. pt. II. Palæontology , by James Hall and RP Whitfield. pt. III. Ornithology , by Robert Ridgway .-- V. (1871) Botany . By Sereno Watson, aided by Prof. Daniel C. Eaton, and others .-- VI. (1876) Microscopical petrography , by Ferdinand Zirkel - VII. (1880) Odonthornithes: a monograph on the extinct toothed birds of North America , by Othniel Charles Marsh
  • Report of the Geological exploration of the fortieth parallel - Various volumes in the Internet Archive - online
  • Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada. 4th edition. Publisher: Charles Scribner's sons New York, Published 1902
  • Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada. James R. Osgood and Company, Boston 1872 (some of the content previously appeared in Atlantic Monthly )

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Member History: Clarence King. American Philosophical Society, accessed October 23, 2018 .
  2. Driven by Love or Ambition, Slipping Across the Color Line Through the Ages . By RACHEL L. SWARNS "The New York Times" JUNE 28, 2015
  3. American Lives: The 'Strange' Tale Of Clarence King August 18, 2010 Heard on Morning Edition
  4. Marta A. Sandweiss: Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line. New York: Penguin Press 2009