Earl Derr Biggers was born in Warren, Ohio, on August 26, 1884, to Robert J. Biggers and Emma Derr Biggers. He attended Harvard University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1907. He worked as a columnist and drama critic for the Boston Traveler from 1908 to 1912, when he was discharged for writing overly critical reviews. His first play, If You’re Only Human, was produced in 1912 but was not well received. That same year, he married Eleanor Ladd, with whom he remained married until he died. The couple had one child, Robert Ladd Biggers, born in 1915. His first novel, Seven Keys to Baldpate (1913), a kind of farcical mystery-melodrama, was exceedingly popular, and in the same year a play by George M. Cohan based on the novel enjoyed even greater success; over the years, it inspired five different film versions.
In the next eleven years, Biggers was quite prolific. Aside from a number of short stories for such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, he wrote two short novels, Love Insurance (1914) and The Agony Column (1916), frothy romantic mysteries, and several plays, which enjoyed only moderate success. None of his plays was published.
In 1925 Biggers came into his own with the publication of the first Charlie Chan novel, The House Without a Key, first serialized, like all the other Chan novels, in The Saturday Evening Post. With the exception of one short novel, Fifty Candles (1926), after 1925 Biggers devoted himself exclusively to Chan, producing five more novels about him. Biggers died of a heart attack in Pasadena, California, on April 5, 1933. A volume of his short stories, Earl Derr Biggers Tells Ten Stories (1933), appeared posthumously.