Samuel Yellin was born in the Russian Empire in 1884 to a Jewish family in Mohyliv-Podilskyi, Ukraine. He was apprenticed to a master ironsmith when he was eleven years old. He finished his apprenticeship at the age of sixteen in 1900. He left Ukraine shortly after and travelled across Europe. He arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in approximately 1905, where his mother and two sisters had already settled; his brother arrived around the same time. Samuel Yellin began taking classes at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art in early 1906. Within a few months, he was teaching there, a job he held until 1919.