Dadabhai Naoroji was born in Bombay on 4 September 1825 in a priestly Parsi family. As a consequence of his outstanding performance at the Elphinstone College, Naoroji obtained the Clare Scholarship.Soon after graduation in 1845, he became the first Indian to be appointed Professor at Elphinstone. He taught in the special classes held for the spread of women's education.
On 27 June 1855 he left for London to join business as a partner in Cama & Co., the first Indian company to be established in London. Four years later he started his own firm Naoroji & Co. Later he became Professor of Gujarati at University College London.
In 1867 he founded the East India Association in London, one of the predecessor organisations of the Indian National Congress with the aim of putting across the Indian point of view before the British public. In 1874 he was appointed the Dewan of Baroda and a year later, on account of differences with the Maharaja and the Resident, he resigned from the Dewanship. In July 1875 he was elected a Member of the Municipal Corporation, Bombay. In 1876 he resigned and left for London. He was appointed as Justice of the Peace in 1883, started a newspaper called 'Voice of India' and was elected to the Bombay Municipal Corporation for the second time. In August 1885 he joined the Bombay Legislative Council at the invitation of the Governor, Lord Reay.
On 31 January 1885, when the Bombay Presidency Association came into being, he was elected as one of its Vice - Presidents. At the end of the same year, he took a leading part in the founding of the Indian National Congress and became its President thrice in 1886, 1893 and 1906.
In 1902 he was elected as a Member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons, representing Central Finsbury, he was the first British Indian MP.
Foreign travel left its mark on his character and personality. A product of liberal western education, he was an admirer of the western system of education. In India, his friends included Sorabjee Bengali the social reformer, Khursetji Cama, Kaisondas Mulji, K. R. Cama the Orientalist, Naoroji Furdoonji, Jamsedji Tata, and some Indian Princes.
Among his younger friends were R. G. Bhandarkar, N.G. Chandavarkar the nationalist reformer, Pherozeshah Mehta, G. K. Gokhale, Dinshaw Wacha and M. K. Gandhi.
He was a firm believer in Parliamentary democracy. He is known in the history of Indian economic thought for his pioneering work in assessing India's national income. He founded several important organisations and belonged to many leading societies and institutions, both in India and the U.K. Some of the important organisations which he helped to found are the Indian National Congress, the East India Association in London, the Royal Asiatic Society of Bombay and so on.
He was a leading social reformer of the second half of the nineteenth century. He did not believe in caste restrictions and was a pioneer of women's education and an upholder of equal laws for men and women. A keen Zoroastrian, but catholic in outlook, with friends among non-Parsis, like Hume, Wedderburn, Badruddin Tyabji, Dr Bhau Daji, K. T. Telang, G. K. Gokhale, he expounded the need for purity in thought, speech and action in his book ‘The Duties of the Zoroastrians’.
He was a prominent nationalist of progressive views. He belonged to the school of moderates, and was a great believer in constitutional methods. Although he was a champion of Swadeshi, he was not against the use of machines for organising key industries in the country. He urged Tata to raise Indian capital for his iron and steel plants.Known as ‘The Grand Old Man of India’ Dadabhai Naoroji was a great public figure during 1845 - 1917. Through the innumerable societies and organisations with which he was associated and his contributions to organs of public opinion, he voiced the grievances of the Indian people and proclaimed their aims, ideals and aspirations to the world at large. He won with effortless ease high distinction on many fronts and will always be remembered in the history of the national movement.
“Let us always remember that we are all children of our mother country. Indeed, I have never worked in any other spirit than that I am an Indian, and owe duty to my country and all my countrymen. Whether I am a Hindu, a Mohammedan, a Parsi, a Christian, or any other creed, I am above all an Indian. Our country is India; our nationality is Indian.”
From the Presidential Address - Dadabhai Naoroji I.N.C. Session, 1893, Lahore