Clarence King (January 6,1842 – December 24,1901) was an American geologist and mountaineer. He was the first director of the United States Geological Survey, from 1879-1881. Clarence King was noted for his exploration of the Sierra Nevada. He was born in Newport, Rhode Island.
In 1862, King graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale College with a Ph.B. in chemistry. While at Yale, he studied with James Dwight Dana. After graduation King traveled on horseback to California with his good friend and classmate, James Terry Gardiner. In California he joined the California Geological Survey without pay where he worked with William H. Brewer and Josiah D. Whitney. In October 1872, he uncovered a diamond and gemstone hoax perpetrated by Philip Arnold. In 1864, King and Richard Cotter reported the first ascent of Mount Tyndall, at the time labeling it mistakenly as the highest peak in the Sierra Nevada.
In 1867, King was named U.S. Geologist of the Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, commonly know as the Fortieth Parallel Survey, a position for which he strongly lobbied. King spent six years in the field exploring areas form Wyoming to the border of California. During that time he also published his famous "Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada" (1872). After the completion of the field work, in 1878 King published "Systematic Geology."
While conducting field work for the Survey, King met and befriended Henry Adams. Their friendship lasted for the rest of King's life, and he is often mentioned by Adams in the autobiographical, "The Education of Henry Adams" (1907).
In 1879, the US Congress consolidated the number of geological surveys exploring the American West and created the United States Geological Survey. King was chosen its first director, however he served for only twenty months.
His common law marriage in 1888 to a black woman, Ada Copeland, was kept secret by his keeping a double identity. King didn't even reveal his true name to his wife until he was on his deathbed. He was survived by four children.
- Clarence King (1871). Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, Boston: James Osgood & Co., New York: C. Scribner’s sons tenth edition 1902: online edition
- Thurman Wilkins and Caroline Lawson Hinkley (1988). Clarence King: A Biography, University of New Mexico Press, 1988 revised edition, softcover, ISBN 0-8263-1085-0
- Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism, (Viking, 2006), King is one of four Americans the author focuses on who were influenced by Alexander von Humboldt.
- Robert Wilson (2006). The Explorer King : Adventure, Science, and the Great Diamond Hoax--Clarence King in the Old West, Scribner, ISBN 0-7432-6025-2
- Find A Grave Profile
- USGS: The Four Great Surveys of the West
- Clarence King (1842–1901): Pioneering Geologist of the West, Geological Society of Americade:Clarence King
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