Stephen Gould was born on September 10, 1941, in Queens, New York, to the family of Leonard and Eleanor Gould. His father was a court stenographer and his mother was an artist. Both were Jewish by ancestry, second-generation immigrants who had elevated themselves into the lower echelons of America’s middle class. Leonard was a Marxist, so the family did not practice their religion.
When Gould was five years old, his father took him to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York. Gould later said that the skeletal display of Tyrannosaurus rex at the Museum sparked his interest in paleontology and made him want to become a paleontologist.