Von Tilzer was born July 8, 1872, in Detroit, Michigan under the name Harry Gummbinsky (shortened to Harry Gumm before taking the name under which he became famous). He ran away and joined a traveling circus at age 14, where he took his new name, and soon proved successful playing piano and calyope and writing new tunes and incidental music for the shows. He continued doing this in Burlesque and Vaudeville shows for some years, writing many tunes which were not published or which he sold to entertainers for 1 or 2 dollars. In 1898 he sold his song "My Old New Hampshire Home" to a publisher for $15, and watched it become a national hit, selling over 2 million copies of the sheet music. This prompted him to become a professional songwriter.
He was made a partner of the Shapiro Bernstein Publishing Company. His 1900 number "A Bird In A Gilded Cage" became one of the bigest hits of the age. Von Tilzer became one of the best known Tin Pan Alley songwriters. In 1902 Von Tilzer formed his own publishing company, where he was soon joined by his younger brother Albert Von Tilzer.
Harry Von Tilzer's hits included "Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage", "Wait 'Til The Sun Shines Nellie", "All Alone", "I Love My Wife, But Oh You Kid!", "They Always Pick On Me", "I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad", and many others.