The KING IRON BRIDGE & MANUFACTURING CO., the largest highway bridge works in the U.S. during the 1880s, played an important role in the nationwide development and construction of the metal truss bridge, a unique product of American engineering and construction technology. Although the King Iron Bridge & Mfg. Co. was not organized under that name until 1871, the company originated in 1858 when Zenas King began his work as a bridge builder. King's early years are obscure.He was born in Vermont but spent most of his early life in New York State before coming to Ohio about 1840. He pursued several different occupations before becoming an agent for a Cincinnati bridge company, Moseley & Co., in 1858.King's name first appears in the Cleveland city directory in 1861, when he is listed as a manufacturer of iron roofing and boilers.That year he established a short-lived partnership with Peter Frees to build boilers and bridges.By 1865 King had established his works on Wason (E. 38th) St., and about 1888, the company moved to a larger plant on Ruskin (E. 69th) St.
King's business initially was confined to the manufacture of iron arch and swing bridges, but by 1878 was building all types of truss, combination, and wooden bridges as well as fencing and jail cells. The company enjoyed a national market, erecting bridges in Kansas, New York, Georgia, California, and the Wyoming Territory. In addition to its office employees and a network of agents in Boston, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Kansas City, and other cities, from 150-200 men earned an average of $12 a week in the King shops.In 1875, the officers of King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing were Zenas King, president; Chas. E King, vice-president; Harley B. Gibbs, secretary; Wm. Vliet, engineer; and Thos. H. Brooks, superintendent. Serving as directors were Zenas King, Ralph Pratt Myers, H.D. Sizer, HENRY CHISHOLM, STILLMAN WITT, and Leverett Alcott. Jas. A. King assumed the office of vice-president in 1877 and became president in 1892.Upon Zenas King's death, the company's name was changed to the King Bridge Co.King-built bridges in Cleveland included the CENTRAL VIADUCT (1888); the Center St. Bridge (1900), Cleveland's last remaining swing bridge; and the 591' steel arch of the DETROIT-SUPERIOR BRIDGE (1917). The company was disbanded in the 1920s.
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