Mumford was also a contemporary and friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, Frederic J. Osborn, Edmund N. Bacon, and Vannevar Bush.
Mumford was born in Flushing, New York, and graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1912. He studied at the City College of New York and the New School for Social Research, but became ill with tuberculosis and never finished his degree. In 1919 he became associate editor of The Dial, an influential modernist literary journal. He later worked for The New Yorker where he wrote architectural criticism and commentary on urban issues.
Mumford's earliest books in the field of literary criticism have had a lasting impact on contemporary American literary criticism. The Golden Day contributed to a resurgence in scholarly research on the work of 1850's American transcendentalist authors and Herman Melville: A study of His Life and Vision effectively launched a revival in the study of the work of Herman Melville. Soon after, with the book The Brown Decades, he began to establish himself as an authority in US architecture and urban life, which he interpreted in a social context.
In his early writings on urban life, Mumford was optimistic about human abilities and wrote that the human race would use electricity and mass communication to build a better world for all humankind. He would later take a more pessimistic stance. His early architectural criticism also helped to bring wider public recognition to the work of Henry Hobson Richardson, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Mumford was involved in numerous research positions and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. In 1943 Mumford was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 1976, he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.
He served as the architectural critic for The New Yorker magazine for over 30 years, and his 1961 book, The City in History, received the National Book Award.
Lewis Mumford died at his home in Amenia, New York.