Born in Luxembourg in 1879, Edward Steichen moved to the United States with his family in 1881, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1900. He first met and befriended Alfred Stieglitz in 1900, while en route to Paris, where he was going to study painting. This friendship led to the co-founding of the Photo-Secession, and the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, more commonly known as 291, which opened in New York 1905. The most frequently featured photographer in Camera Work during its run from 1903 to 1917, Steichen even designed the magazine's custom typeface and logo at Stieglitz's request.
In World War I Steichen commanded the photographic division of the Expeditionary Forces. He retired in 1919 settling in France, at which time he gave up painting and pictorialist photography in favor of straight photography, emphasizing sharpness and texture.
In 1922 Steichen returned to America and opened a commercial studio in New York, specializing in commercial photography. He became a photographer for the Condé Nast magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair from 1923-1938, working concurrently for many advertising agencies. He closed his studio in 1938.
In World War II Steichen was commissioned as Director of the Naval Photographic Institute. After the war, from 1947 until 1962, he served as the Director of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art. His largest and most famous exhibit was 1955's "The Family of Man," which consisted of 503 photographs that not only travelled the world, and was seen by millions, but also accompanied by a best-selling book. He exhibited his own work at the MOMA in 1961, retired in 1962 (hiring John Szarkowski as his successor), and published his autobiography, "A Life in Photography," in 1963.
He died in Connecticut in 1973.