James Merritt Ives was born on March 5, 1824 on the grounds of Bellevue Hospital where his father was the superintendent. He went to work at the age of twelve; however, he continued his education by visiting art galleries and reading at the Astor Library. He married Caroline Clark in 1852 with whome he had two sons and four daughters. Caroline was the sister-in-law of Nathaniel Currier's brother, Charles Currier, who recommended James M. Ives to his brother. He was hired as a bookkeeper in 1852. However, his talent as an artist, artistic knowledge, and insight into what the public wanted proved invaluable to Nathaniel Currier. Almost immediately after hiring, he became the general manager of the firm. Helping Currier interview potential artists, craftsman and selecting images the firm would publish, he was made a full partner in 1857. The name of the firm changed from N. Currier lithographer to Currier & Ives.
James M. Ives like his partner Nathaniel Currier, was dedicated to the business and he worked at the firm until his death in 1895.