John Motley Morehead III (1870-1965) graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1891. He went on to discover acetylene gas and a new process for the manufacture of calcium carbide. He was most widely known as a successful businessman and chemist due to his role in the founding of the Union Carbide Corporation.
Morehead felt a great degree of debt to the University of North Carolina, for his successes in life were so closely tied to his education in Chapel Hill. In 1938, he met with UNC President Frank Porter Graham. He was looking to give a gift that would express his gratitude for all the University had done for him. From that meeting came the idea to create a planetarium that would open the minds of young North Carolinians to the marvels of science. Morehead later made the gift which made construction possible.