By Allan King Sloan
September, 2005

When it came to structuring the control and operation of the King Bridge Company, Zenas King was definitely a family man. As soon as they finished their formal schooling in Cleveland, Zenas’s three sons were brought into the firm in management positions and/or as directors. When Zenas decided to set up a factory operation in Kansas in 1872, he planned to create Zenas King and Sons as the operating entity with eldest son, James A. King, as the President. At that time, second son, Charles E. King, was named as a vice president of the headquarters company in Cleveland and son-in-law, Mary King’s husband, Homer W. Osborne, was named to the board of directors. Harley Gibbs, the son of a long time friend of Zenas from Milan, Ohio was named treasurer, a position he held for many years. By the late 1880s, long after the Kansas operations had been ended, James had been named as vice president of the company and designated to succeed Zenas as president. Charles, who was having problems with drink, was relieved of his vice presidency, but still served as a director for a while. At the age of 24, youngest son, Harry Wheelock King, was brought into the company as Secretary, then Vice President and designated to succeed James, and later on, James’ only son, Norman Clarke King (the only King male to got to an engineering school, at Yale) was named secretary.

This pattern of family connections was not limited only to Zenas’s  sons. When setting up operations to serve the western market, Zenas brought in his nephew, George E. King, (a son of his cousin, Elias King) to serve as a sales agent for the company. He was one year older than James and from all appearances the two were quite close. While James was slated to become the head of the company’s marketing and production operations in Kansas had they lasted, he was called back to Cleveland in 1873  to assist his father, and George was move in to set up a marketing operation in DesMoines Iowa in 1875, presumably with the help of James. In addition to George King, Zenas had hired George Wheelock, the son of Zenas’s brother in-law, William Wheelock, brother of Maranda, Zenas’ wife, to help sell his bridges in the west. Apparently in the early 1880s all the King and Wheelock cousins were close.[1].

In 1889 George King with George Wheelock decided to set up their own bridge company operating out of DesMoines. This was about the time that James was taking over the reins of the King Bridge Company from his father. Whether the prospect of working under the control of his cousin James was a factor in the decision to break with the parent company is not known. In any case, both the King Bridge Company and the George E. King Company continued to successfully pursue business in the south and west. Since George King was not known to have built his own fabrication plant, it was likely that there was still a working relationship between the two firms with the King Bridge Company fabricating the bridges erected by George on a sub-contractual basis and perhaps sharing clients[2].

However, both George E. King and George Wheelock did have working and ownership relationships with other bridge companies including the Kansas City Bridge Company which later merged with the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company and into which the George E. King Bridge Company was absorbed for a period in the 1890s.  The flow of King Bridge Company agents and engineers in an out of the parent company was a feature of the bridge industry in the 1880s and 1890s. Many agents formed their own bridge companies with or without manufacturing facilities in order to secure contracts, then subcontacted with those companies with fabricating capability. Many of these in turn were involved in the merger and acquisition frenzy of the 1890s culminating in the creation of the giant American Bridge Company in the late 1990s.

The King Bridge Company founded by Zenas was not part of the merger and acquisition activity and remained independent under the control of Zenas’s sons, for better or for worse, until the end in 1922.

[1] In 1881, at the birthday party of Jessie Cherry, granddaughter of Maranda King’s sister, Wealthy, and a resident in Zenas’ Cleveland home while growing up and recognized in Zenas’s will, her autograph book was signed not only by Zenas, James, and Harry King and their wives, but also by George E. King and his wife, Mary, plus the mysterious Harley Zenas King who was only nine years old at the time. My speculation is that Harley was the son of Charles with an unidentified mother and was living under the aegis of his grandfather

[2]  In Denton County, Texas there are bridges built both by the King Bridge Company and the George E. King Bridge Company still standing and documented by the County Historical Commission. Apparently in the 1880s the King Bridge Company was given a contract to build a number of bridges, including the recently restored Old Alton Bridge in 1884. In the early 1900s, the George King Company built a number of  mostly pony trusses. Then as part of the continuum later in the 1900s, the Austin Brothers, a company formed by agents of the George E. King Company, built a number of additional truss bridges


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