Whyte was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and graduated Princeton University in 1939. In 1946, he took a position at Fortune Magazine, where he gained recognition as a social and cultural theorist after publishing The Organization Man, a compilation of interviews from CEO’s that explored the corporate ethic.
While at Fortune, Whyte developed an interest in urban planning and development. His 1969 work with the New York City Planning Commission to create a comprehensive city plan included a series of studies he conducted on spatial patterns and behaviors within the urban sector. This 16-year study involved the compilation of time-lapse photography and film documenting human behavior in open spaces within New York City. Known as The Street Life Project, Whyte’s findings were published in 1988 in his book City: Rediscovering the Center. His publications, including The Exploding Metropolis (1958) and The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), helped foster an understanding of how the design of space can influence the behavior of the individuals within it and has since directly influenced the development of urban spaces.
Along with writing, Whyte traveled and lectured extensively and taught at Hunter College of the City University of New York.