Ernest Orlando Lawrence was born on August 8, 1901, in Canton, South Dakota, United States. His parents, Carl Gustavus and Gunda Regina Jacobson, were the children of Norwegian immigrants, his father being a Superintendant of Schools.
Ernst Orlando had a younger brother named John Hundale Lawrence, who grew up to become a physician. He later became well-known for his pioneering work in the field of nuclear medicine.
According to his mother, Ernst was ‘born grown up’. He was also incessantly curious, very persistent and full of enthusiasm. Ernst’s best friend was Merle Tuve, who later became a famous nuclear physicist. Together the two children built their own shortwave radio transmitting station.