James Maitland Stewart was born on May 20, 1908, in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the son of Elizabeth Ruth (née Jackson; March 16, 1875 – August 2, 1953) and Alexander Maitland Stewart (May 19, 1871 – December 28, 1961), who owned a hardware store. Stewart was mainly of Scottish ancestry. He was descended from veterans of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War.
The eldest of three children (he had two younger sisters, Virginia Wilson Stewart and Mary Kelly Stewart), young Jimmy was expected to one day inherit his father's store and continue a business that had been in the family for three generations. His mother was an excellent pianist, but his father discouraged Stewart's request for music lessons. When his father once accepted a gift of an accordion from a guest, Stewart quickly learned to play the instrument, which became a fixture offstage during his acting career. As the family grew, music continued to be an important part of family life.