Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born on November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of a successful architect, Kurt Sr., and his wife, Edith Sophia. Vonnegut was raised along with his sister, Alice, and brother Bernard (whom he spoke of frequently in his works). Fourth-generation Germans, the children were never exposed to their heritage because of the anti-German attitudes that had spread throughout the United States after World War I (1914–18; a war in which many European countries, some Middle Eastern nations, Russia, and the United States fought against Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey). Because of the Great Depression (the severe economic downturn in the 1930s), the Vonneguts lost most of their wealth and the household was never the same. Vonnegut's father fell into severe depression and his mother died after overdosing on sleeping pills the night before Mother's Day. This attainment and loss of the "American Dream" would become the theme of many of Vonnegut's writings.
After attending Cornell University, where he majored in chemistry and biology, he enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the World War II (1939–45; a war fought between the Axis powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan—and the Allies: England, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States). This would set the stage for another crucial element for his writings when he was taken prisoner by the German army. Following the war, Vonnegut studied anthropology at the University of Chicago and later moved to Schenectady, New York, to work as a publicist for the General Electric Corporation. During this period, he also began submitting short stories to various journals, and in 1951, he resigned his position at General Electric to devote his time solely to writing.