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Clarence King

Explorer, Adventurer, First Head of the USGS

Clarence King

Clarence King (1842-1901), American chemist, geologist, mountaineer, and first director of the U.S. Geological Survey (1879-1881), shown center foreground, with the Hayden Survey of Colorado; King was noted for his exploration of the Sierra Nevada; King led a strange double life, becoming obsessed with Ada Copeland, a black nursemaid and former slave living in New York City; King somehow convinced Copeland that he was also black (despite his having bright blue eyes) and was a Pullman porter working on the railroads (which explained his long absences); King hid his common-law marriage to Copeland because of the then widespread condemnation for mixed marriages (miscegenation) and did not disclose his true race to her until writing a letter to Copeland from his deathbed in far off Arizona; chemists.

Clarence King at United States Army base

A painting that depicts American mountain climber, geologist and Yale University alumni, Clarence King (January 6, 1842 - December 24, 1901) (Standing) at a United States Army base near Carson City in Nevada.

1869 party of American mountain climber, Clarence King

An 1869 painting that depicts the party of American mountain climber, geologist and Yale University alumni, Clarence King (January 6, 1842 - December 24, 1901) as it crossed the Wasatch Range in Utah.

American mountain climber Clarence King

American mountain climber , geologist and Yale University alumni, Clarence King (January 6, 1842 - December 24, 1901).

In 1893 King wrote "The Age of the Earth" in the American Journal of Science, which advanced groundbreaking theories of how to estimate the planet's true age through a deductive reasoning process. King's works were at first met with some derision, particularly among those whose views extended from the biblical account of creation. However, his work later gained wide acceptance among his peers and many of his his techniques are still in use today.

In November, 1893 King began experiencing symptoms of "nervous excitation" and was eventually committed to Bloomingdale Asylum. He died from tuberculosis on December 24, 1901 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Remembered mainly today for his bizarre private life, King was nevertheless a pioneer in the science of geophysics. His determination of the age of the Sierra mountain range by finding fossils in metamorphosed slate represents one of the earliest examples of the discovery of scientific truth from the application of pure empirical reasoning.


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