William Martin Murphy was born on the 6th of January 1845 in Castletownbere, Co. Cork. He was educated in Dublin's Belvedere College before going on to study at the Catholic University College.
In 1864, when Murphy's father died, it fell to him to take over the family business in Cork. An intelligent man with a keen eye for profit, William M. Murphy soon returned to Dublin and continued to expand the business. Not long after his return, Murphy settled permanently in Dublin where he was involved in running railways and tramlines. He was involved in every area of rail and tram management, from finance and construction to day to day managerial duties. He invested in the Imperial and Metropole hotels and Cleary's famous department store on O'Connell street.
Not content with simply being a successful business man, Murphy was also a publisher. He provided the financial backing for the Daily Nation newspaper, which would later become the Irish Independent which is still in publication today. He was soon the owner of the country's most popular newspaper, a role which acquired him an office in London.
In 1907, Dublin held a grand exhibition. Murphy played a key role in the establishment of the exhibition. In recognition of this work he was awarded a knighthood from King George VII. Murphy, being a staunch nationalist, refused the title from the British monarch as it would be in direct contradiction to his politcial principles.
Murphy is best known for the part he played in the 1913 Dublin Lock-Out. Murphy feared what an all-out strike would mean for his tram systems in Dublin, and as a result, he became a figurehead for the employers side of the Lock-Out. As an employer he was instrumental in the outrage of workers as his staff on the trams earned a full 25% less than those in Belfast and Glasgow. He also repeatedly refused the worker's demands for a 9 hour working day. Murphy encouraged the employers of Dublin to refuse to accept the terms of the strike, thus resulting in a 5 month long stand-off as staff were locked out of their places of work. Murphy's steadfast refusal to back down on the terms of the strike and bring the Lock-Out to an end made him a villain in the eyes of many, with his counterpart, strike leader James Larkin, being lauded as the hero. Murphy's actions had put a target on his back, yet he refused to live in fear, insisting instead on carrying on with his life as normal. A long, cold, hungry winter saw the workers of Dublin bring an end to their strike as they were desperate for a means of feeding their families. The Lock-Out officially ended on the 18th of January 1914.
On the 30th of January 1914 Murphy stepped down as President of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. He continued to be involved in Irish nationalism, though did not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising.
William Martin Murphy died on the 26th of June 1919 at the age of 74. He is buried with his family in vault in the O'Connell circle in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery.