Dr. Otto King
At the start of the 20th century, dentistry was still primitive compared to today’s methods. The use of local anesthetic to numb specific areas didn’t exist, and general anesthetics were often dangerous. There were no X-rays to guide dentists, nor were there the advanced tools and materials that have made dental visits safer and more effective.
At that time, there was little organization in the profession. Communication barely existed among dentists, and journals for discussion and information on newest methods often reflected the priorities of dental industry interests.
Otto Ulysses King was born in Huntington in 1873 to Frank and Xantha King. Frank was a farmer who opened a meat market in Huntington. The Kings stressed the importance of education for their sons, Otto and Emmett. Otto became a standout communicator in high school, earning a gold medal as the school’s top orator.
Otto went on to study dentistry at Northwestern University, where he was president of his senior class and graduated in 1897. He returned to Huntington to begin his practice, and married Mayme Beaver in 1898. The couple had two children.
Dr. King soon became involved with dental organizations at the state and national level. He rose to become president of the Indiana State Dental Association, and attracted the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, who appointed him to the International Dental Conference in London in 1914.
His most important work came after he was elected the first General Secretary of the National Dental Association (the position now known as executive director of the American Dental Association). In that role, he established the Official Bulletin of the National Dental Association. It was an effort to unite fellow dentists with a publication free of bias or special interests, and the initial 32-page edition contained no advertising. Dr. King accomplished this with the help of publisher Orlando Winfield Whitelock, owner of the Whitelock Press, in the building now occupied by The Herald-Press.
In 1913, membership in the national organization was around 1,200 professionals, who paid dues of just a dollar a year. Under Dr. King’s leadership, membership jumped to 12,000 in just one year, and by 1920 the organization’s 80-page monthly publication boasted a circulation of 24,000.
Dr. King’s work helped usher in the era of modern dentistry. Professional collaboration, innovation in the industry, and the implementation of dental ethics were hallmarks of the time he served with local, national, and international groups.
At the same time, Dr. King was also helping in his community. He was a devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, where he supervised a Sunday School program that grew from 375 students to more than 1,000 in just four years. As a member of the Rotary Club, Dr. King attended the international convention in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Dr. King retired in 1927 and died in 1951. His story and influence were revived by another Huntington dentist, Dr. John Regan, whose research and passion led to a state historical marker being placed in the city to honor Dr. King’s work.