William Heath Robinson was born into a family of artists in Islington, London. His father and brothers Thomas Heath Robinson and Charles Robinson were all illustrators. His early career was as a book illustrator, for example in Hans Christian Andersen's Danish Fairy Tales and Legends (1897); The Arabian Nights, (1899); Tales From Shakespeare (1902), and Twelfth Night (1908), Andersen's Fairy Tales (1913), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1914), Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (1915), and Walter de la Mare's Peacock Pie (1916).
In the course of this however he also wrote and illustrated two children's books, The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902) and Bill the Minder (1912); these are regarded as the start of his career in the depiction of unlikely machines. During the First World War he drew large numbers of cartoons, collected as Some "Frightful" War Pictures (1915), Hunlikely! (1916), and Flypapers (1919), depicting ever-more-unlikely secret weapons being used by the combatants.
In 1903 he married Josephine Latey, the daughter of newspaper editor John Latey. Heath Robinson moved to Pinner, Middlesex, in 1908. His house in Moss Lane is commemorated by a blue plaque. A project is now (2007) in hand to restore West House, in Memorial Park, Pinner, to house a Heath Robinson Collection.