Home For Dentists Member Spotlight Dr. Otto U. King: Small-Town Dentist, World- Wide Impact

Dr. Otto U. King: Small-Town Dentist, World- Wide Impact

Dr. Otto U. King: Small-Town Dentist, World- Wide Impact

by Dr. John Regan, Huntington, IN


Did you know the very first executive director of the ADA was a Hoosier dentist? It’s true. Dr. Otto U. King, from the small northeastern town of Huntington, Indiana, was not only the first ADA executive director, he also spearheaded the publication of the first JADA.

Otto KingDr. King was recently featured in an article by the American Dental Association (ADA) to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the Journal of the ADA (JADA). In 1913, Dr. King became the first editor of the Official Bulletin (now the JADA) of the National Dental Association (now the ADA). As stated in the ADA News, “Then and now, the editorship was a big job, but Dr. King has an even larger role in the life of the Association…he also had the office of executive secretary” (now executive director).

That first journal was only 32 pages with no advertising. It was published and mailed from Huntington by the Whitelock Press in the building currently occupied by the Huntington Herald-Press. It has been reported the initial copies of the Official Bulletin were taken from the Whitelock Press to the Post Office in horse drawn carts and that the carts were known to break down from the weight on occasion.

Publication of the Official Bulletin (the first JADA) was not without its share of controversy. Several attempts at publishing a professional journal by other dental organizations had been unsuccessful. Dental journals at that time were all published by dental manufacturers with their obvious bias. Today, it is hard to visualize the manner in which dentistry was forced to practice at the turn of the century (1900). There were no local anesthetics as they are known today, no x-ray, no acrylic resins and no intricate castings. The need for an independent, non-biased publication that would speak for the profession rather than commercial interests was well recognized. However, there was always the problem of lack of money for a publication. Before 1913, membership in the Association never exceeded 1,200 members and dues were never more than one dollar. This caused the membership committee to recommend that, “No active steps be taken toward putting forth a journal by the Association.”

Reorganization of the NDA in Kansas City, MO in 1913 made Dr. King its first secretary and managing editor. In spite of the committee’s recommendation, Dr. King made an “informal arrangement” with Orlando Winfield Whitelock, a local attorney, judge and co-owner of the Whitelock Press, along with his father, to publish the first Official Bulletin for the NDA. The nature of this “informal arrangement” is clearly spelled out in remarks made by O.W. Whitelock to the NDA Board of Trustees on March 3, 1920 and recorded in the NDA minutes. Mr. Whitelock told the Board, “In the fall of 1913 Otto U. King…submitted to our company as printers, his desire to publish a Bulletin in the interest of the National Dental Association, stating that it was a new proposition and venture and that the Association did not have any money to back such an enterprise, but that he had faith such a publication could be made a success. Having faith…in Dr. King we decided to give it initial support.” That faith was obviously justified as Mr. Whitelock went on the report, “In 1920 each month thus far it has carried 76-80 pages of advertising and 24,000 copies have been issued.”

Due to the death of the Association’s Treasurer, Dr. King became responsible for the financial records of the NDA in 1913-14. These records show that substantial sums of money were dispersed by the Association to the Whitelock Press and Huntington Post Office going forward from 1913. This was possible because membership grew from 1,700 to 12,000 in 1913 with the formation of the NDA. The January 6, 1915, audited report is signed by Henry O. Duncan, First Assistant Cashier, Citizen’s State Bank, Huntington, Indiana. (Local residents might be interested to know that the Citizen’s State Bank became the Community State Bank and is now a Wells Fargo Branch office.)

In 1917, the Bulletin changed to a monthly publication and the name was changed to the Journal of the National Dental Association. At that time, Dr. King closed his Huntington practice and moved his family to Chicago to devote full time to Association affairs. From 1917 to 1921, Dr. King was also secretary of the Northwestern University Dental School and a lecturer on dental economics.

O.W. Whitelock deserves special mention in the history of the Official Bulletin for his willingness to take a chance on the success of the publication. The reorganized NDA was new and in need of members and enhanced stature, both of which were provided by the Official Bulletin. On top of his printing business, Mr. Whitelock was an attorney, the first judge of the new 56th Judicial Circuit Court in Huntington and publisher of the News-Democrats newspaper. Huntington was a small community, and, as such, Mr. Whitlock and Dr. King would have been well-known to each other, if not friends, in spite of one being a Democrat and one a Republican. As an aside, the building that is currently occupied by the Huntington Herald-Press was known as the Whitelock Building and that inscription was visible on the front of the structure until covered by the current facade in 1990 by the Herald-Press publisher, Mr. James Quayle, Vice President Danforth Quayle’s father.


Personal Life

Otto King was born in Huntington on March 18, 1873, to Frank and Xantha. Frank was a successful farmer, merchant and landowner who came to Huntington to open a meat market and to give his two sons, Otto and Emmett, the advantage of a better education. His mother, Xantha, was an active member of the W. C. T. U. Otto is recorded as receiving a gold medal for being the best orator in his high school class.

His popularity and leadership were demonstrated early as vice president of his class at the Chicago Dental College and president of his Senior Class at Northwestern University Dental School. He graduated from Northwestern in 1897.

Dr. King’s brother, Emmett, will be of interest to Warren residents as he was a Principal of the high school there and taught Latin and Mathematics. He was Valedictorian in high school and played football at Indiana University where he won his “I” in 1898. His law degree was from Harvard in 1904 where he also played center on their football team. In between teaching at Warren and playing football at Indiana and Harvard, he coached football at the University of Maine one year before returning to Huntington to practice law. He died suddenly of a heart attack on October 21, 1934 at the age of 59 while attending a football game at Greencastle.

After graduation, he married Miss Mayme Beaver on December 23, 1898. She is described as, “…a very popular young society leader of this city.” They had two children, Helen Alberta, born February 12, 1900, and a son, Walter. Both also had outstanding careers: Walter went on to become an orthopedic surgeon in Peoria, Ill. Helen, a very successful artist, married another artist, Alvin Hattorf, and moved to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, where she had a prolific art career.

Dr. King is recorded as being a devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and “…superintendent of the Sunday-school for four years during which time the enrollment has increased from 375 to over a thousand.” He was a church Steward and Trustee for many years. He was a delegate to the General Conference of the church at Atlanta City when the unification of the Methodist Episcopal and the Methodist Church South was accomplished. He helped rebuild the local church in 1914-1915.

Dr. King was also an active member of the Rotary Club and attended the international convention at Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. A local resident, Mrs. Doris Kunkel remembers living across the street from Dr. King and described him as very friendly to everyone and “extremely large, like Santa Claus.”

Otto’s first wife, Mayme, died July 26, 1939, at the age of 63. His second marriage was to Margaret Raymond on January 12, 1947. She died May 8, 1951.

Dr. Otto Ulysses King died August 13, 1951 and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Huntington. His obituary contains names that will be familiar to many locally. The Briggs Funeral home was in charge of arrangements with Rev. J. Maurice Thompson officiating. Music was by Esther Davis. Pallbearers were Brice King, Harry Grey, Dee Wygant, Dick Mann, Harold Bailey and Fred Winebrenner.


Professional Life

After graduating from Northwestern University Dental School in 1897, Dr. King joined what was then the National Dental Association (NDA), now the ADA. Prior to serving as Secretary of the NDA, he had a great influence on the development of local dentistry in Indiana. The 1901 Biographical Memoirs of Huntington County cite Dr. King as one of the most popular and “…prominent dentists of Huntington County….”

In 1907, he was elected Secretary of the Indiana State Dental Association (ISDA), and through his efforts the membership grew from 275 to 1,000 members. The ISDA is now known as the Indiana Dental Association (IDA). Records at that time state, “At a meeting of the state organization in 1913, Dr. King was the recipient of a diamond ring as a token of esteem for his work with the Society.” During that year he was elected Secretary and Editor of the ISDA as well as Secretary and Editor of the NDA. At that time, the Journal of the ISDA was also published and mailed from Huntington by the Whitelock Press. During this time, Dr. King maintained his dental practice in Huntington. In 1914, he was unanimously elected President of the ISDA.

Dr. King was well known and highly regarded both nationally and internationally. President Woodrow Wilson appointed him to attend the Sixth International Dental Conference in London in 1914. During World War I, he was a member of the Commission on Dentistry on the General Medical Board, Council of National Defense. In 1924 and 1925, Dr. King served as a delegate to the International Dental Federation meeting in Europe. He also served as a member of the organizing committee for the Seventh International Dental Congress in Philadelphia in 1926. Dr. King was one of five dentists who conceived and planned the prestigious dental honorary, the American College of Dentists. The founding principles of the College were to promote ethics and professionalism and recognize dentists who serve their communities and profession with distinction. An ardent traveler, Dr. King is recorded as having, “…made 125 talks in Mexico.”

Dr. King retired in December 1927. He died on August 13, 1951 at the age of 78.

Dr. King’s absolutely remarkable dental career has been matched by few, if any, since then. He was at the dawn of modern American dentistry and led it into the 20th century. Association presidents came and went, but Dr. King was its stabilizing administrator.

The success of his leadership is born out in his origination of the Official Bulletin, which is the JADA today, and the success of the reorganized NDA, which he took on at its birth and turned it over as the ADA today. He was a man of his Methodist faith, as well, and made significant leadership contributions to his church. Huntington, Indiana dentist, Dr. Otto Ulysses King, should truly be remembered as one of Indiana’s and dentistry’s greatest citizens.

This article originally appeared in Spring 2013 issue of the Journal of the Indiana Dental Association.

Featured image at top of page by Herbert J. Krause: Historic downtown Huntington looking north towards Whitelock Press (known today as the Herald-Press), on Jefferson Street, with the “Hosler Fury” airplane setting on the south bank of the river.with Whitelock Press in the background. Retrieved from http://www.huntingtoncounty.com/remember006.htm.


About John Regan, DDS

Dr. John E. Regan DDS, MAGD, FACD is a general dentist practicing in Huntington, Indiana. He graduated from the Indiana University School of Dentistry in 1961. He’s a past national president of the AGD and past member of the Indiana State Board of Dental Examiners. He can be contacted at johnregandds@gmail.com.