Across Fortune's Tracks: A Biography of William Rand Kenan, Jr

Synopsis

William Rand Kenan, Jr. (1872-1965) is best remembered throughout his native North Carolina as a major benefactor of his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But he was also a gifted scientist and business executive. In this first comprehensive biography, Walter Campbell charts Kenan's achievements in areas as diverse as chemistry, dairy science, media management, and railroad and resort development. While still a student at UNC, Kenan played an important role in the discovery of calcium carbide - the major component in the manufacture of acetylene - which led to the formation of Union Carbide Company. In 1899, he became a consultant to Standard Oil cofounder and Florida developer Henry Morrison Flagler, a relationship that was strengthened when Kenan's sister Mary Lily became Flagler's third wife in 1901. His partnership with Flagler was a lifelong source of frustration for Kenan. Campbell chronicles Kenan's struggle to be recognized as a success in his own right, as he guided the vast network of Flagler businesses, as well as his own flourishing enterprises, through a tumultuous period that saw two world wars, a speculative land boom, and a depression. Written with access to Kenan family papers, this biography offers new insights into Kenan's many successes as well as his disappointments, particularly his keen sense of having lived his life in the shadow of those around him. It also includes the first balanced look at the troubled life of Mary Lily, who married Robert Worth Bingham after Flagler's death, and disputes the commonly accepted account of animosity between the Kenans and the Bingham family stemming from Mary Lily's untimely death in 1917.