Wilbur Daniel Steele was born on March 17, 1886, in Greensboro, North Carolina. His father, the Reverend Wilbur Fletcher Steele, taught the Bible at the University of Denver from 1892 until 1923, and the young Wilbur received a bachelor’s degree from that university before enrolling at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts in 1907 and spending the next two years painting and etching in Paris and Italy. In 1913 Steele married the painter Margaret Thurston and moved from Greenwich Village to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he apprenticed with such writers as Susan Glaspell and Eugene O’Neill, and where their two sons, Thurston and Peter, were born. Margaret died in 1931, and in 1932 Steele married the actress Norma Mitchell and moved to Hamburg, Connecticut.
Wilbur Daniel Steele’s first story, “On the Ebb Tide,” was published in Success Magazine in 1910, and for the next two decades he published prolifically and traveled to many of the locales that appear in his fiction, including Bermuda, North Africa, the Caribbean, and the South Carolina coast. In 1932 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Denver. The Best Stories of Wilbur Daniel Steele, published in 1946, included most of the stories for which Steele would want to be remembered, and it was supplemented by Full Cargo in 1951.
Steele moved to Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1956, spent 1964 at Essex Rest Home in Connecticut, and in 1965 entered Highland Hall Convalescent Home in Essex, where he died in 1970.