Hauptmann was born in the resort region of Silesia (now part of Poland), where his father owned the most prominent hotel. He was sent to the country as a youth to study agriculture at his uncle's farm and learn to be a farmer but the field didn't suit him. He studied sculpture and, later, science and philosophy, then worked for two years as a sculptor in Rome, but returned to his homeland for his health.
In his early 20s, he finally settled down to work in literature. However, he found it hard to focus, so his most productive years came later. In 1904, he divorced his first wife from whom he had been separated for three years and married a violinist, with whom he had lived during that time.
Hauptmann instantly became famous when his play Before Dawn premiered. it was a starkly realistic tragedy about a woman who comes from a family of alcoholics and commits suicide after she is taunted about heredity by the man she loves. It shocked audiences but earned Hauptmann a place in German literature.
The Weavers tells the story of the 1844 uprising of linen weavers caught in the mechanization of the cloth industry and the subsequent loss of work.
The Sunken Bell concerns a famous bell maker and his doomed quest to create the perfect, clear-toned bell. Torn from his family, he is drawn high into the mountains by beautiful forest elf who convinces him that there he can realize his dream. In the end, he loses not only his family but also the forest elf, and he never achieves his goal.
Hauptmann's 1912 novel, Atlantis, concerned a romance aboard a doomed ocean liner. It had the serendipitous fortune to be published about the same time as the Titanic disaster, making it a best seller. A Danish silent film based on the book came out the following year to great success, thought was banned in Norway for being insensitive to the recent tragedy.