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Kenan, William Rand, Jr.

by Thomas S. Kenan III, 1988

30 Apr. 1872–28 July 1965

William Rand Kenan, Jr. Image from the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.William Rand Kenan, Jr., scientist, businessman, and philanthropist, was born in Wilmington. His father, William Rand Kenan, was born in Kenansville and became a wholesale merchant; his mother was Mary Hargrave, of Chapel Hill, whose family gave some of the land for The University of North Carolina when it was founded. Young Kenan attended Horner's Military School at Oxford before entering The University of North Carolina in 1890; he was graduated with the B.S. degree in 1894.

William Rand Kenan, Jr. (1872-1965). From the Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History. While in Chapel Hill, Kenan assisted in the discovery of calcium carbide, the major basis for the manufacture of acetylene; this led to the eventual formation of the Union Carbide Company. Before he was twenty-six, he traveled around the world in the employment of Union Carbide. In 1900 he moved to Lockport, N.Y., and acquired an interest in the Traders Paper Company, becoming assistant manager. In 1899 he had met Henry Morrison Flagler, who was a partner of John D. Rockefeller in the formation of the Standard Oil Company. At that time Flagler was the major developer of the east coast of Florida and had begun construction of his Florida East Coast Railroad and a chain of resort hotels. Impressed with Kenan's mechanical ability, Flagler hired him as a consultant for all his Florida enterprises. Their relationship was strengthened when Flagler married Kenan's sister, Mary Lily, in 1901. Kenan built the first generator for Flagler's Miami Power and Water Company Willaim Rand Kenan, Jr. Image courtesy of Digital North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, UNC Libraries. (later Florida Power and Light). At Flagler's death, Kenan became a trustee of the Flagler estate and later president of the Florida East Coast Railroad, Florida East Coast Hotel Company, Florida East Coast Car Ferry Company, Model Land Company, Miami Power and Water Company, West Palm Beach Water Company, and P. & O. Steamship Company.

Kenan also established Randleigh Farms in Lockport, N.Y., a scientific breeding and dairy farm. For his contributions to dairy science, he was awarded the Master Breeders Award.

As a philanthropist, Kenan gave generously to his church, the First Presbyterian Church of Lockport, and to the Memorial Hospital of Lockport. He also founded Camp Kenan for the Lockport YMCA and endowed its operations. Among his gifts to The University of North Carolina, he donated the funds to build Kenan Memorial Stadium in honor of his parents.

Kenan was buried in Lockport beside his wife, Alice Pomroy Kenan, whom he married in 1904; she died in 1948. They had no children. Kenan's will established the William R. Kenan, Jr., Charitable Trust, which has continued to make generous grants to The University of North Carolina. The first major gift from this trust was a $5 million endowment for the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professorships. There is a portrait of him at the university in Chapel Hill.


Kenan family records in the author's possession.

W. R. Kenan, Jr., ed., Incidents by the Way (1946).

New York Times, 29 July 1965.

Alvaretta Kenan Register, ed., The Kenan Family (1967).

Additional Resources:

Kenan Family Papers, 1748-1996 (collection no. 04225). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed February 14, 2013).

History of the Kenan Center:

William Rand Kenan, Jr. in WorldCat:

William Rand Kenan, Jr. in the Internet Archive:

VML: An Introduction to William Rand Kenan, Jr., NCSU:

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. 1900-. Report of the trustees. New York: The Trustees.

"William R. Kenan, Jr. Excellence Scholarship Awards Announced at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts." [press release]. June 12, 2012. University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Baysden, Chris. "Kenan gives UNC $5M to hire faculty." Triangle Business Journal. March 25, 2010.

"UNC-CH gets $6 million for honors program." Philanthropy Journal. June 5, 2008.

"UNC lands $8M gift for music facility, scholarships" Triangle Business Journal. December 15, 2006.

"William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust supports UNC’s performing arts with $5 million challenge grant." [press release]. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sept. 14, 2005.

Session laws and resolutions passed by the General Assembly [1959], North Carolina Digital Collections:

Image Credits:

"George Stevens, Jesse Oldham, and William Rand Kenan, Jr. (1872-1965)." North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  (accessed February 15, 2013).

William Rand Kenan, Jr. (1872-1965). From the Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History. Available from (accessed February 15, 2013).

Willaim Rand Kenan, Jr. Image courtesy of Digital North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, UNC Libraries. Available from (accessed June 17, 2013).


Please thank your staff for your promote response to my original question about the founding of Union Carbide but I have more information that disputes this claim. I have provided the wilson library of the University of Chapel hill with information that James M Morehead (a.k.a James B Kenan) was the founder of Union Carbide.

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