William Rand Kenan, Jr., was born in 1872 in North Carolina. He attended a military school there and majored in chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He participated with his chemistry professor in the discovery of calcium carbide which was to lead to worldwide travel participating in the setup and operation of carbide and acetylene plants. Those travels brought him to Niagara Falls to work at what was to become the Union Carbide Corporation. He was instrumental in forming and managing major Florida developments including the Florida East Coast Railway, hotels, electric companies and banking operations.