James Francis "Jimmy" Cagney was born on July 17, 1899, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City.
His father, James Francis Cagney Sr., was of Irish descent. At the time of his son's birth, he was a bartender and amateur boxer, though on Cagney's birth certificate, he is listed as a telegraphist. His mother was Carolyn (née Nelson); her father was a Norwegian ship captain while her mother was Irish.
Cagney was the second of seven children, two of whom died within months of birth. He was sickly as a young child—so much so that his mother feared he would die before he could be baptized. He later attributed his sickness to the poverty his family had to endure. The family moved twice while he was still young, first to East 79th Street, and then to East 96th Street.
Cagney credited his mother for the fact that, unlike a number of his childhood friends, neither he nor his brothers slipped into a life of crime.