Kahn, Louis I. (1901–1974) Kahn was not a great financial success as an architect, but his innovative modern buildings, which featured massive forms expressive of the modern world—yet often embodying references to great historic architecture—made him one of the most talked-about architects of the 20th century. After his death, his reputation grew, and he is considered one of architecture’s most important mavericks.
Karlsefni, Thorfinn (active 1002–1015) Thorfinn arrived in Greenland in 1002 and married Gudrid, widow of one of the sons of the Norse chieftain Eric the Red. About 1007, Thorfinn sailed with three vessels and 160 men to settle in Vinland, a portion of Newfoundland that had been discovered by Leif Ericsson (probably his brother) about ten years earlier. Thorfinn occupied Vinland for about two years, during which time Gudrid gave birth to the first Euro-American child, a son named Snorro. The colony was, however, abandoned, and Thorfinn returned to Greenland.
Kearny, Stephen Watts (1794–1848) Kearny was a career army officer, who first saw service in the War of 1812. At the outbreak of the U.S.-Mexican War, he led an expedition from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to conquer New Mexico and California. He was able to talk the Mexican defenders of Santa Fe into giving up without a fight, and he marched into the New Mexico capital without firing a shot on August 18, 1846. He then advanced to California, which he helped secure for the United States.
Keller, Helen (1880–1968) Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Helen Adams Keller was stricken with a scarlet fever at 19 months old, leaving her blind, deaf, and mute. Thanks to a remarkable teacher, Anne Sullivan, who remained with Keller from 1887 until Sullivan’s death in 1936, Keller learned to communicate and, at 14, enrolled in the Wright Humason School for the Deaf in New York City, went on to the Cambridge (Massachusetts) School for Young Ladies, enrolled in Radcliffe College in 1900, and graduated cum laude in 1904. Having acquired skills no one so severely disabled could ever have expected to attain, Keller decided to share her experience, not only to help and to inspire other disabled persons, but to demonstrate to the sighted and hearing world that disability did not diminish intellectual capacity or humanity. She became an enormously popular author and (through an interpreter) lecturer. Her activism brought about an international revolution in the treatment of the deaf and the blind.
Kellogg, Frank (1856–1937) Kellogg was U.S. secretary of state from 1925 to 1929 in the cabinet of President Calvin Coolidge. In 1928, he concluded with French foreign minister Aristide Briand the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, a multilateral agreement to prohibit war as an instrument of national policy. The pact was signed by 62 nations, including all of those that would be the major combatants of World War II. For his effort, Kellogg received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929.
Kellogg, W. K. (1860–1951) With his brother John Harvey Kellogg, Will Keith Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in 1906 in Battle Creek, Michigan. It subsequently became the Kellogg Company. Kellogg popularized toasted cereal—mainly in the form of cornflakes—especially for breakfast. He created a commercial food empire and changed the eating habits of virtually all Americans.
Kennan, George F. (1904–2005) A Princeton-educated diplomat, Kennan was a specialist in Soviet politics and, after World War II, while stationed in Moscow, transmitted to Washington, D.C., in February 1946 the so-called “long telegram,” in which he analyzed the Soviet psyche and advocated developing a policy of “containment,” opposing Soviet Communist expansion wherever and whenever it appeared in the world. This policy was further articulated in a famous article published under the pseudonym “X” in the journal Foreign Affairs in July 1947. Containment became the cornerstone of U.S. Cold War policy for half a century.
Kennedy, Edward (1932– ) U.S. senator from Massachusetts since 1963, Edward “Teddy” Kennedy is the only surviving brother of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, both victims of assassination. Edward Kennedy was the frontrunner for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination until, on the night of July 18, 1969, he accidentally drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, after a party. His passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. Kennedy was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, and although he was reelected to the Senate in 1970, his presidential aspirations were dashed.
Kennedy, John F. (1917–1963) Taking the oath of office at 43, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the nation’s youngest elected president. His assassination, on a visit to Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963, also made him the youngest to die. Youth and the determination, idealism, and optimism of youth were at the center of the Kennedy presidency, which inspired the nation to strive toward extraordinary achievements ranging from progress in social justice to the exploration of outer space.
Kennedy, Joseph P. (1888–1969) The grandson of Irish immigrants, Kennedy was a Massachusetts businessman, whose enterprises included banking, ship building, motion picture production, investing, and probably Prohibition-era bootlegging. A major contributor to the Democratic Party, he secured high-level appointments in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, including the ambassadorship to Britain. In this capacity, he advocated the appeasement of Adolf Hitler, whom he considered unbeatable, and encouraged FDR to steer the United States on an isolationist course. This stance ultimately ruined Kennedy’s political and diplomatic career. Kennedy’s ambition was then directed toward his sons, Joseph P., Jr., John F., Robert F., and Edward M. (He also had five daughters: Rosemary, Kathleen, Eunice, Patricia, and Jean). When Joseph Jr. was killed in World War II, Joseph Sr. groomed JFK for greatness, exercising all of his personal, political, and financial influence to do so.
Kennedy Robert F. (1925–1968) Brother of President John F. Kennedy, RFK served as attorney general in the Kennedy cabinet and was also the president’s most trusted adviser, playing a key role in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, which had the potential for igniting World War III. As attorney general, Kennedy enforced federal policy and Supreme Court rulings mandating the racial integration of public facilities, schools, and universities. In 1965, he became a U.S. senator, and in 1968 began a campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, running against incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson as an opponent of the Vietnam War. His presidential bid ended in his assassination after triumphing in the California primary.
Keokuk (1790?–1848?) Keokuk rose to power among the Sauk and Fox tribe along the Rock River on the Illinois-Iowa border. He opposed leaders such as Black Hawk, who urged militant resistance to white incursions into tribal lands and instead counseled accommodation with and concession to the government. As a result, the Sauk and Fox homelands were ceded to the United States and Keokuk grew wealthy, but lived in disgrace among his tribe.
Kern, Jerome (1885–1945) Although his 1912 The Red Petticoat was the first musical comedy containing all-Kern tunes, it was his 1927 Show Boat that changed the history of musical comedy, transforming the genre into serious musical drama. Kern created a whole new form of popular art—and one that was uniquely American.
Kerouac, Jack (1922–1969) Kerouac was born of French-Canadian descent in Lowell, Massachusetts, was discharged from the U.S. Navy during World War II as mentally disturbed, then made a precarious living as a merchant seaman and worked various odd jobs before publishing his first novel, The Town and the City, in 1950. Restless and dissatisfied with accepted literary and social conventions, he worked toward developing a new style, which was highly charged, spontaneous, and unedited, inspired by jazz improvisation and aided by drugs and liquor. In 1957, he wrote On the Road, a freewheeling narrative of road trips across the United States in search of fulfillment in music, literature, mysticism, sex, and life itself. The characters in On the Road are latter-day hoboes, who turn their backs on regular jobs, mortgages, and the ownership of things. The book became the bible of the “Beat Generation,” which questioned many accepted American values, and which laid the foundation for the Hippie movement of the later 1960s.
Kerry, John (1943– ) Kerry became the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts in 1985 and was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 2004. He lost to incumbent George W. Bush, in part due to a smear campaign that called into question Kerry’s military decorations earned while he served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Kerry had first come to public attention during that war as a vocal member of Vietnam Veterans against the War during 1970–1971. The highly decorated veteran made for a passionate and compelling antiwar spokesman and earned a prominent place on President Nixon’s celebrated “Enemies List.”
Kesey, Ken (1935–2001) Early in the 1960s, Kesey was a paid experimental subject at a Veterans Administration hospital, who was given psychedelic drugs and reported on their effects. Combined with his work as an orderly in the hospital, this experience inspired his 1962 breakthrough novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (made into a popular film in 1975). Most of Kesey’s subsequent writing was autobiographical and often recounted drug-charged travels with the Merry Pranksters, a kind of commune who journeyed together in a psychedelically decorated bus during the 1960s and became symbolic of that era, its ideals, and its foibles.
Key, Francis Scott (1779–1843) Baltimore attorney Key was detained by the British aboard a warship in Baltimore Harbor during the attack on that city in the War of 1812. He passed the night anxiously observing the naval bombardment of Fort McHenry, sentinel guarding the approach to Baltimore. When the dawn’s early light revealed that the star-spangled banner still waved—signifying the British failure to capture the fort—Key wrote the verses that were later set (by others) to an old English tavern tune (“To Anacreon in Heaven”) and became the words of the National Anthem. (“The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially proclaimed the anthem by President Herbert Hoover in 1931.)
Kieft, Willem (1597–1647) Kieft was director-general of New Netherland (modern New York) from 1638 to 1647. During the night of February 25–26, 1643, he perpetrated a horrific massacre of Wappinger Indians—men, women, and children—at Pavonia (modern Jersey City), New Jersey for the purpose of suppressing potential Indian warfare. Instead, the Pavonia Massacre provoked massive tribal retaliation, and New Amsterdam (modern New York City) was subjected to a state of semi-siege for more than a year. War between the Indians and Dutch did not end until 1645.
Kimmel, Husband E. (1882–1968) As navy CINCPAC (Commander in Charge of the Pacific) at the outbreak of World War II, Admiral Kimmel, with his army counterpart, General Walter C. Short, took most of the blame for America’s unpreparedness to resist the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Unlike Short, he was never officially blamed for Pearl Harbor, but the catastrophe ended his career. Retiring from the navy, he worked for an engineering firm, then published Admiral Kimmel’s Story, an attempt to clear his name.
King, Billie Jean (1943– ) King’s record, style, and character as a professional tennis player raised the status of women’s professional tennis to that of a major sport. Although she won 39 major titles in her career, she may be best remembered for defeating Bobby Riggs, a loudmouth “male chauvinist” tennis player, in what was advertised in 1973 as the “Battle of the Sexes.” At stake was largest tennis purse to that time.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929–1968) An ordained Baptist minister, King rose to leadership of the national Civil Rights movement beginning in 1956 during the Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott. He came into national prominence as founding leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which promoted nonviolent protest to end racial segregation and discrimination throughout the nation. His stirring “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the massive 1963 March on Washington galvanized the nonviolent Civil Rights movement and aided passage of the epochal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964, and while no Civil Rights leader was more respected or influential, King found his leadership under increasing challenge from more militant black leaders, especially after (in the mid 1960s) he merged the cause of racial equality with a general drive to end poverty—regardless of race. King fell victim to an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968, while in Memphis to aid striking sanitation workers. The night before, he had delivered his prophetic “Promised Land” speech, declaring, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
King Philip (circa 1639–1676) The Wampanoag sachem Metacomet—known to the colonists of New England as King Philip—was the second son of Massasoit, the chief who had befriended the Pilgrims in 1621. King Philip became chief in 1662, after the death of his brother Wamsutta, and waged war against most of white New England during 1675–1676. In proportion to the white and Indian population of New England at the time, “King Philip’s War”—all but forgotten today—was the deadliest war in American history.
King, Rodney (1965– ) On the night of March 3, 1991, the California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles police officers chased King—who was speeding—for eight miles before he stopped. A confrontation occurred, during which King resisted, and LAPD officers repeatedly beat King with batons. This incident (but not the resistance that had allegedly preceded it) was videotaped by a bystander, and was nationally televised on news programs. It sparked a public outcry against racist-motivated police brutality and sparked massive race riots in Los Angeles in 1992 after a jury acquitted officers on criminal charges.
Kino, Eusebio (1645–1711) This Italian-born Jesuit priest came to America as a missionary and explorer in the Spanish service and established numerous missions in the region known as Pimería Alta, which is now Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona. In contrast to many other missionaries, he opposed the Spanish enslavement of the Indians. He also aided the Pima in diversifying their agriculture.
Kirstein, Lincoln (1907–1996) Kirstein was an impresario, critic, and businessman who promoted dance by working with the famed choreographer George Balanchine to create and direct the ballet companies that were consolidated into the New York City Ballet. Committed to perpetuating American dance, Kirstein was a founder of the School of American Ballet, which he directed from 1940 to 1989.
Kissinger, Henry (1923– ) No appointed official has had a more profound effect on American diplomacy than Henry A. Kissinger. Born in Germany, he fled Nazi persecution with his Jewish family in 1938 and settled in New York. Educated as a political scientist he rose through academia to become adviser for national security affairs and then secretary of state in the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford during 1969–1976. Kissinger was a major influence on Nixon’s policy of détente with the Soviet Union and, especially, with China, and was instrumental in formulating Nixon’s Vietnam War policy. It was Kissinger who negotiated peace with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, for which he was awarded—jointly with Tho—the 1973 Nobel Prize for Peace.
Knox, Henry (1750–1806) Knox was a Boston bookstore owner who became active in the independence movement and, during the American Revolution, served as General Washington’s chief artillery commander. Knox was appointed secretary of war in 1785 under the Articles of Confederation and retained this post in the cabinet of President Washington under the newly adopted Constitution in 1789. He served until his retirement from public life in 1795.
Koresh, David (1959–1993) Born Vernon Wayne Howell to a 14-year-old single mother in Houston, Texas, Koresh was expelled from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He moved to Waco, Texas in 1981, where he joined the Branch Davidians, a religious community of excommunicated Seventh-day Adventists. Proclaiming himself the messiah, Koresh advocated (and practiced) polygamy, and, according to charges by former cult members, perpetrated child abuse. On February 28, 1993, responding to reports that the Branch Davidians had accumulated a stockpile of illegal weapons—and also responding to the accusations of child abuse—agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) raided the Mount Carmel compound. Four ATF agents and six cultists were killed. The FBI moved in and held the compound under siege for 51 days before storming it on April 19, 1993. A fire—subsequently determined to have been started by Koresh and the cultists—consumed the compound, killing 76 people, including Koresh and 27 children. Most Americans regarded Koresh as a deranged cult leader, but some saw the assault as an example of federal tyranny against an American maverick.
Kovic, Ron (1946– ) Kovic was a decorated U.S. Marine, who served two tours in Vietnam and was wounded on January 20, 1968, sustaining a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Returned to the United States, he became a vocal antiwar activist, who was arrested a dozen times for political protest. In 1974 he completed a memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, which (using a screenplay cowritten by Kovic) became a movie in 1989, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Tom Cruise as Kovic.
Kristol, Irving (1920– ) Kristol once described himself as a “liberal mugged by reality.” He was managing editor of Commentary (1947–1952) and was active in other liberal political journals as well as book publishing before becoming professor of social thought at the New York University Graduate School of Business (1969–1988). His political thought evolved during the 1960s into advocacy of a hawkish approach to the Cold War and a reduction of the welfare state. Most importantly, in contrast to earlier American conservatism, his neoconservative philosophy called for the active assertion of U.S. military power in foreign affairs. Neoconservatism has greatly influenced U.S. political policy, from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, who, in July 2002, presented Kristol with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Kroc, Ray (1902–1984) Kroc was a salesman and exclusive distributor for the “multimixer” milk shake blender. In 1954, he visited a multimixer client, a San Bernardino, California, hamburger joint owned by Maurice and Richard McDonald. The brothers developed an assembly-line method to make and sell a large volume of hamburgers, fries, and shakes. Impressed, Kroc licensed the McDonald format and name and, on April 15, 1955, opened the first of a planned chain of restaurants in Des Plaines, Illinois. By Kroc’s death in 1984, there were 7,500 McDonald’s restaurants—which had become an icon of “fast food” not only in the United States, but worldwide.