Bruce Barton was born on August 5, 1886, in Robbins, Tennessee, United States. Barton's siblings were Charles William Barton (b. 1887), Helen (b. 1889), Robert Shawmut Barton (b. 1894). Barton's parents also took in a young abandoned mulatto boy to care for in the Barton household.
Most of his youth, however, was spent in Oak Park, Illinois, where his father was pastor of the town's Congregational church. Young Barton showed an early interest in journalism.