Karl Polanyi was born in Vienna on October 21, 1886. He died on April 23, 1964 in Pickering, Ontario. He was the son of a Hungarian engineer and entrepreneur, Michael Pollacsek, and a Russian mother, Cecile Wohl, who was a familiar figure in Hungarian intellectual society.
Karl Polanyi studied at the Universities of Budapest and Kolozsvár, earning a doctor of law (Dr. Jur.) degree in 1909. At the university, he participated in the foundation of the liberal Galilei Circle (Galilei Kör) in 1908, and served as the first President of this Hungarian cultural movement of radical students. Polanyi remained a member of the Galilei Circle until 1910, when he was employed as a clerk in his uncle's law office. He was called to the bar in 1912, but disliked the profession. The Galilei Circle established the journal Szabadgondolat, with Karl Polanyi as the editor until 1919, when it was suppressed.