Floyd Patterson was born on January 4, 1935, in Waco, North Carolina, the third of nine sons in a family of thirteen. He would grow up in poverty, a condition that was the catalyst for the chain of events that made him a heavyweight fighter.
In 1936, Patterson's family moved to Brooklyn so that his father could look for better paying work. Though he would find employment, he still had a difficult time making ends meet for such a large family. Construction, long-shoreman, sanitation, fish market—every day Patterson's father worked any number of jobs. But every day Floyd saw the conditions in which he lived, saw his father coming home virtually empty-handed. He saw that no matter how hard his father worked, it was never enough.
The family was always on the move, so young Patterson had a difficult time keeping friends. With the lack of any money for extras, Patterson was given the hand-me-down clothes from his brothers. He grew to feel ashamed of his appearance, and he felt helpless.
Not wanting to encounter people, as a young boy Patterson skipped school often, preferring instead to remain in the dark for most of the day. He would hide out in cellars, alleyways, or the corners of subway stations; or, if he could sneak in or round up the few cents it took, hide out at the movies. He cultivated the life of a loner. Eventually he started stealing, maybe to pass the time, but also because he saw that by taking what he wanted, he could get the things his family needed, such as milk, or dresses for his mother.