Born in Lawton, Pennsylvania, in 1898 into a family of artists, particularly sculptors. From an early age constructed toys out of wood, wire, and other materials. Initially studied mechanical engineering, but later enrolled in the Arts Students League. Developed an interest in the circus, and in 1926 he made his own miniature "Cirque Calder" with characters that Calder would manually move, creating performances. In late 1920s and early 1930s, introduced to the Parisian avant-garde and surrealists, including Hans Arp, Miró, Man Ray, Masson, Max Ernst, and Tanguy. He and Miró became lifelong friends, with a shared love of abstraction, biomorphic creatures, and playfulness. A 1932 visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio proved a major inspiration toward abstraction. From this came his revolutionary kinetic sculptures for which Marcel Duchamp coined the term "mobiles."
In 1933 he returned to the U.S., settling on a farm in Roxbury, Connecticut, which became a gathering spot for many of the Surrealists and New York artists during and after WWII. In 1936 his work was shown in the Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism show, and was included in the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition in New York in 1942. After a long and prosperous career, died in New York in 1976.