2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


ALDRICH, Michele L., Cornell Univ, 24 Elm Street, Hatfield, MA 01038 and LEVITON, Alan E., California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118-4599, maldrich@smith.edu

Clarence King (1842-1901) graduated from Yale's Sheffield School in 1862 with a major in analytic chemistry. He studied under the chemist George Brush (a disciple of Justus Liebig) and James Dwight Dana. As an assistant on the California Geological Survey during 1863-66, King learned much about the American West in general and the Sierra in particular but exasperated survey leader Josiah Whitney with his tardy reports and his faulty map of the Yosemite Valley floor. King led his own project, the United States Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel from 1867 to 1878. In these years, King collected the data and developed the theories on the Cordillera that were to mark his place in the history of American geology. He grounded the work on topographical mapping modeled on the methods used on the California survey. King rarely published his ideas in interim reports, saving the work for the final volumes of the survey. The first to appear, MINING INDUSTRY (1870) carried essays by King on the Comstock Lode and Green River coal basin that articulated a few of the concepts detailed in his master work, the survey report on SYSTEMATIC GEOLOGY (1878). This 800-page book covered Western rocks from the Pre-Cambrian to the Quaternary, with original interpretations of volcanics that put King in the forefront of thinkers on this problem worldwide. It was also noteworthy for its description of Lake Lahontan and what Gilbert named Lake Bonneville. King accounted for Cordilleran history with catastrophic upheavals and enormous depositions. King used the pioneering microscopical petrographical analyses of Ferdinand Zirkle, published in another survey volume to buttress his identification of Cordilleran rocks. As Director of the United States Geological Survey (1879-1881), King established geochemical and geophysical laboratories that he hoped would supply the data to finish his investigation of forces that created the Cordillera, but his own diversion into private mining ventures and the perilous funding of these laboratories left the program unfinished at his death.