William Rand Kenan Jr. was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, on April 30, 1872., son of William Rand Kenan Sr. (1845-1903) and Mary Hargrave. His father, who became a trustee of the University of North Carolina, was a Civil War veteran, customs collector, white supremacist, life insurance agent, and wholesale merchant. He was a brother of Sarah Graham Kenan and a grandson of Owen Rand Kenan. Kenan graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1894 and was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
He started his career by establishing plants for acetylene production in the United States, Australia, and Germany. In 1896, he worked for Union Carbide (now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company) in Niagara Falls, New York.
Between 1899 and 1900, he helped develop Florida's east coast with oilman Henry Flagler. This included the construction of the Florida East Coast Railway and the Florida East Coast Hotel Company, including the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.
In 1901, Flagler married Kenan's sister, Mary Lily Kenan. In 1904, William Kenan married Alice Pomroy, whom he had met at Flagler's home. After Flagler's death in 1913, Mary Lily and Flagler's surviving two sisters inherited his estate. In 1917, Mary Lily died and Kenan inherited most of Flagler's estate.
He moved to Lockport, New York, his wife Alice's hometown, and ran the Western Block Company, the largest maker of block and tackle in the United States. He maintained Randleigh Farm, a model dairy farm for research with Jersey cattle. He spent the rest of his life writing and donating resources to philanthropic endeavors.
Death and legacy
Kenan died in 1965. In 1986, the Kenan Center was founded at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It houses the Kenan Institute for the Study of Private Enterprise as well as the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust and William R. Kenan Jr. Fund. Moreover, he provided the funds for Kenan Memorial Stadium and it was named, at his request, in honor of his parents. When it was revealed that his father participated in the murder of innocent African Americans during the Wilmington Massacre Wilmington insurrection of 1898, the stadium has been rededicated to William Kenan Jr. ("William Sr. was the commander of a white supremacist paramilitary force, which massacred scores of black residents in Wilmington, on a single day in 1898.") The Kenan–Flagler Business School at UNC is named for him and his sister, Mary Kenan Flagler. The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University was founded in 1995. Eighty-five endowed professorships at colleges and universities in the United States are named for him.
- Kenan, William R. (1950). History of Randleigh Farm (9th ed.). Lockport, New York: (self-published).
- Kenan, William R. (1958). Incidents by the Way: More Recollections (5th ed.). (self-published).
- University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2006), "WILLIAM RAND KENAN, JR. (1872-1965) AND THE KENAN CENTER", The Carolina Story. A Virtual Museum of University History, retrieved October 11, 2018
- Kenan Center. "Kenan Center History". Retrieved October 11, 2018.
- Kenan III, Thomas S. (1988). "Kenan, William Rand". NCPedia. State Library of North Carolina.
- The Sigma Alpha Epsilon record : a quarterly journal of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. 17. May 1897. p. 224.
- Kenan Center. "About".
- "UNC will remove plaques at Kenan Stadium honoring Kenan family member who had ties to Wilmington massacre". October 3, 2018. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
- Kenan Institute for Ethics. "Our History". Retrieved October 11, 2018.
- Johns Hopkins University, Office of Donor and Volunteer Engagement (2016). "William R. Kenan Jr. Professorship". Retrieved October 12, 2018.