Edwin Smith was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and lived in Egypt during the latter half of the 19th century. In 1862 he came temporarily into possession of a medical papyrus which was sold by its Egyptian owner to Georg Ebers in 1873 and published by Ebers in 1875.. It was thus best known as the Ebers Papyrus.
In 1862 he also purchased the papyrus which came to bear his name, from a dealer called Mustapha Aga at Luxor. Smith's knowledge of hieratic was not sufficient to enable him to translate the papyrus, a task which was undertaken by James Henry Breasted, aided by Dr. Arno B. Luckhardt, a professor of physiology, and led to the publication of the translation in 1930.
Edwin Smith died in 1906.