John Motley Morehead III

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John Motley Morehead III
United States Minister to Sweden
In office
January 22, 1930 – March 31, 1933
Preceded byLeland Harrison
Succeeded byLaurence A. Steinhardt
Mayor of Rye
In office
Personal details
Born(1870-11-03)November 3, 1870
Spray, North Carolina
DiedJanuary 3, 1965(1965-01-03) (aged 94)
Rye, New York
NationalityUnited States
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Genevieve Margaret Birkhoff
RelationsLily Morehead Mebane (sister)
FatherJames Turner Morehead
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
OccupationChemist, entrepreneur
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
United States Army Reserve
Battles/warsWorld War I

John Motley Morehead III (November 3, 1870 – January 7, 1965) was an American chemist, politician, and diplomat. As a chemist, his work provided much of the foundation for the business of Union Carbide Corporation. The Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation was formed in 1917 from the merger of the former Union Carbide founded in 1898 by Morehead's father; and the National Carbon Company founded in 1886.[1]. He was a noted philanthropist who made major gifts to his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also served as mayor of Rye, New York and United States Ambassador to Sweden.

Morehead came from an illustrious North Carolina family: his father was James Turner Morehead; his grandfather, John Motley Morehead, served as Governor of North Carolina. His sister, Lily Morehead Mebane, was decorated by the governments of France and Serbia for her relief work after World War I; she later served two terms in the North Carolina state legislature.[2]

Morehead graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1891 and was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.[3] One of his notable early scientific discoveries was the development of an economical process for the manufacture of calcium carbide. He was also an authority on the analysis of gases, having invented a device for the purpose and written a book on the subject.

Morehead married Genevieve Margaret Birkhoff. A few years after her death, he married Leila Duckworth Houghton. He had no children. He devoted his considerable fortune to philanthropy, especially to the benefit of UNC-Chapel Hill. With a college classmate and fraternity brother, Rufus Lenoir Patterson, he donated the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower on the campus. He also gave the University the Morehead Planetarium, later renamed the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

One of Morehead's particular interests was in providing financial assistance to students attending UNC Chapel Hill. To that end he endowed the John Motley Morehead Foundation, which each year awards undergraduate scholarships covering the full cost of attendance at UNC Chapel Hill to applicants chosen through an extensive and competitive screening process. The Morehead-Cain Scholarship is the oldest merit-based scholarship in the United States.

During the First World War, Morehead served as a major in the United States Army; he later became a colonel in the United States Army Reserve. From 1925 to 1930, Morehead served as the Mayor of Rye, New York, and also gave money for the establishment of a new city hall;[4] his nomination as minister to Sweden, from which he served from 1930 to 1933, came during his mayoralty.[5]

He was awarded the North Carolina Award, the highest civilian award bestowed by the U.S. state of North Carolina in the category of Public Service in 1964.

Direct descendants through the paternal line of James Turner Morehead include W. Harris Nelson and William H.M. Nelson III.[6]. Non-lineal descendants include Jean Motley Morehead Larkin and John L. Morehead.

There is a section of Interstate 40 named after him, called the John Motley Morehead III Freeway, that passes through Chapel Hill, North Carolina and most of the eastern end of Orange County.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ A photograph of Lily Morehead Mebane in her relief worker uniform, c. 1921, in Rockingham County Legacy: A Digital History Project.
  3. ^ "The Record of Sigma Alpha Epsilon". 1888.
  4. ^ "John Motley Morehead Is Dead; Gave NorthCarolina U.'Millions; Union Carbide Executive, 94, Donated Rye City Hall On War Industries Panel". The New York Times. 1965-01-08. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  5. ^ "J.M. MOREHEAD NAMED MINISTER TO SWEDEN; Hoover Nominates Mayor of Rye, Electrical Engineer Here, for Post at Stockholm". The New York Times. 1930-01-16. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  6. ^ [2]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Leland Harrison
U.S. Ambassador to Sweden
1930 -1933
Succeeded by
Laurence A. Steinhardt