Hugo Münsterberg was born into a merchant family in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), then a port city in West Prussia. His father Moritz (1825-1880), was a successful lumber merchant and his mother, Minna Anna Bernhardi (1838-1875), a recognized artist and musician, was Moritz's second wife. Moritz had two sons with his first wife, Otto (1854-1915) and Emil (1855-1915), and two with Anna, Hugo (1863-1916) and Oscar (1865-1920). The four sons remained close, and all of them became successful in their careers. A neo-Renaissance villa in Detmold, Germany, that Oscar lived in from 1886-1896 has recently been renovated and opened as a cultural center.
The family had a great love of the arts, and Münsterberg was encouraged to explore music, literature, and art. Both his mother and his father died before he was 20 years old. When he was 12, his mother died. This marked a major change in the young boy's life, transforming him from a carefree child to a much more serious young man. Then in 1880 his father also died.