Born in Hunan Province of China, Dr. Li was widely known as the "Tungsten King." He discovered and developed the first tungsten deposits there; invented the Li Process for tungsten carbide manufacture; and guided the Wah Chang Corporation to international leadership in mining and smelting, research, commodities trading and engineering services.
As a student at a technical high school, he was prospecting for tin when he came across some rocks of unusual appearance. Soon after that, he enrolled at the Royal School of Mines in London where he analyzed his samples, and learned about tungsten and its importance.
Li returned home just as World War I began and armament production increased the demand for tungsten. He shipped his first ores to the United States in 1915 and contributed substantially to our nation's war effort.
He established Wah Chang Trading Corporation in New York, became a naturalized citizen and enhanced his fame as a world authority on tungsten.
"K.C." as he was known, again served the U.S. in World War II by developing tungsten mines in Nevada, California and Colorado. Additionally he built a tungsten refinery at Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, which earned the title of "Tungsten Capital of the World."
Commissioned to build a plant to supply zirconium for the U.S. Navy's nuclear submarine program, Dr. Li and Wah Chang developed it into the world's largest producer of that and many other rare metals.
During his long career, he served as advisor to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, as a director of the Commodity Exchange of New York; and as an active member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
He established the Li Foundation of New York and funded the K.C. Li Medal and Prize at Columbia University for advancements in the science of tungsten as well as scholarships to mining students at the University of Nevada.
Dr. Li was long identified with civic affairs in New York City. He was Chairman of Wah Chang International Corporation at his death, which was reported in newspapers with the words, "The world and the United States have lost an outstanding citizen."