Biography of Zenas King
Cuyahoga County, OH Biographies

ZENAS KING. The true measure of life is not in years, but in achievement, but both in years and in large and worthy accomplishment as one of world's constructive workers the late Zenas King was enabled to make his service one of large and cumulative importance. His talent in mechanical invention was supplemented by a splendid initiative and executive ability, and the concrete results were represented by the upbuilding of a great industrial enterprise at Cleveland and the winning of precedence as one of the leading bridge builders of the world, the King structural iron products for the building of bridges standing forth as worthy of pioneer honors in this field as well as representing one of the foremost industries of the kind in the United States. At the time of his death, October 28, 1892, Mr. King was president of the King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company, and he served consecutively as president of the Lake Shore Bank of Cleveland from the time of its organization until his death, he having been the founder of this institution. Mr. King was one of the pioneers also in the building of iron bridges, and his achievement in the industrial world is one that can not fail to be of cumulative value. He identified himself also with other industrial and business enterprise of importance, and was an outstanding figure in both the business and civic affairs of the Ohio metropolis for many years, the while his fine attributes of character marked him as the recipient of unqualified popular confidence and respect.

A scion of a family that was founded in New England in the Colonial period of our national history, Zenas King reverted to the Green Mountain State as the place of his nativity, his birth having occurred in Kingston, Vermont, on the 1st of May, 1818, so that he was seventy four years of age at the time of his death, in 1892. He was a lad of five years when his parents moved to St. Lawrence County, New York, in the year 1823, and there he was reared to the sturdy discipline of the home farm, the while his mental ken was widened by the earnest application he gave to study in the common schools of the locality and period. He early gave evidence of mechanical ability, and while his nature was not one of undue self assertiveness, he had the well balanced powers that make for assimilation and absorption and for a placing of true valuation upon men and material agencies. Thus his ambition was quickened to gain a wider sphere of action than that represented in the basic farm industry. At the age of twenty one years Mr. King came to Ohio and established his residence in the growing village of Milan, Erie County, and was a merchant and real estate dealer There he also became a successful contractor and builder, and with this line of enterprise he continued his alliance until 1860. In 1848 he formed a partnership with C. H. Buck and engaged in the general merchandise business at Milan. Eight years later his impaired health led him to retire from the firm, and later he gave two years of effective service as a traveling representative of the Cincinnati firm of Scott & Hedges, leading dealers in agricultural implements. He then became associated with the Mosley Bridge Company of Cleveland, and thus initiated his alliance with the line of industry along which he was destined to achieve maximum success and precedence. With characteristic concentration and enthusiasm Mr. King in this connection devoted much of time and thought to the improving of bridge construction, with special interest in devising a means of improving the cummon type of iron bridges. His research and experimentation were must thorough, and after many experiments and tests, changes and substitutions, he perfected plans for an iron bridge. He obtained patents on his invention in the year 1860, and to place his new type of bridge in practical service he organized his firm and erected and equipped what was for that time a large manufacturing plant, the same having been established at the corner of St. Clair and Wason Streets in the City of Cleveland. Here was instituted the manufacture of materials for iron bridges, besides which the enterprise was amplified to include the manufacture of steam boilers. In 1863 the partnership was dissolved, his partner assuming control of the boiler making department of the business, while Mr. King took over the bridge building industry, in which he concentrated his activities. In the introduction of the new type of bridge he had, as a matter of course, to encounter popular prejudice and skepticism and to overcome many other formidable obstacles. He knew the value of the product and system which he had to offer, and with characteristic determination and courage he persisted in his promotive efforts until he gained for his iron bridges a technical and popular approval that had reflex in the splendid development of his business. The King bridge measured up to every test, and by the year 1886 Mr. King had erected iron bridges of an aggregate of more than 150 miles if placed end to end. In 1871, as a matter of commercial expediency and to meet the requirements of the constantly expanding business, Mr. King effected the organization of the King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company, and in which he enlisted the cooperation of a number of leading Cleveland capitalists and others of prominence in industrial affairs. Under this regime the business of the company was extended to vast volume, and the King bridges came into requisition throughout all sections of the Union. In structural iron and steel work Mr. King was a leader and did much to advance standards of service in these important lines. Among the important structures erected by the King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company may be mentioned the Central, Walworth Run and Kingsbury viaduct in the City of St. Louis, Missouri, the South Omaha bridge in Nebraska, the New Viaduct at Cleveland and several bridges across the Mississippi River. The following consistent statement is worthy of preservation in this review: "In the administration of the large and important interests of his company Mr. King displayed the attributes and powers of the man of large affairs, the true captain of industry, and thus brought contradistinction to the popular estimate that usually ascribes to the man of inventive genius a lack of initiative and executive ability. Throughout his active career Mr. King continued the guiding spirit in the wide operations of the great industrial corporation of which he had been the founder, besides which he acquired other industrial and commercial interests of important order." It may be noted further that Mr. King held for some time the office of president of the old St. Clair & Collator Railroad. He was ever the man of thought and action, and his name and fame have become a part of the history of Cleveland and the nation, as touching industrial and civic enterprise and progress.

Mr. King was essentially a loyal, liberal and public spirited citizen, but had no ambition for the honors of political or other public office. He contributed earnestly to the support of charitable and philanthropic agencies in his home city, was a republican in political adherency, and he and his wife were devoted communicants of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Mr. King gave many years of loyal and effective service as a member of the vestry of the Cleveland parish of St Paul's Church, and was eventually honored with the office of senior warden of this church, his career, in all of its relations, having exemplified the surety of his Christian faith and the consistency of his service as a true churchman.

Mr. King, as previously stated, continued to serve as president of the King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company until his death. In this office he was succeeded by his son James, and upon the illness of the latter the presidency was assumed by the one surviving son, Harry W., who is still the chief executive of this old and important industrial corporation.

In the year 1842 was solemnized the marriage of Mr. King and. Miss Maranda C. Wheelock, of Ogdensburg, New York, and she passed to the life eternal March 1, 1891. The ancestry of the Wheelock family in England traces back to 1285, and the family in America was here founded in the early Colonial era. Among the distinguished representatives of this family was the founder of historic old Dartmouth College. Of the seven children of Mr. and Mrs. King only two are now living : Mary, who is the widow of Dr. Homer W. Osborn, an honored citizen to whom a tribute is given in an individual memoir in the following sketch, and Harry W., who is president of the King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company. Harry W. King married Miss Marjorie Gundry, of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, she being a sister of John M. Gundry, an executive of the Cleveland Trust Company.

A History of Cuyahoga County
and the City of Cleveland
By: William R. Coates
The American Historical Society
Chicago and New York, 1924

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