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).