Born in Watseka, Illinois, Bacon was enrolled at Illinois Industrial University, Urbana from 1884 to 1885. In 1888 he began working for the firm McKim, Mead & White. Funded by a Rotch Travelling Scholarship, he left the firm from 1889 to 1891 to travel in France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, where he became enamored of classical Greek architecture. He briefly returned to the mentorship of Charles McKim before beginning a short-lived partnership, Bacon & Brite, with his colleague James Brite in 1897. After the partnership was severed in 1903 he worked alone, completing several notable commissions, many in his characteristic Beaux-Arts style, among them Union Square Bank, New York City; Danforth Memorial Library, Paterson, New Jersey; and the DuPont Memorial Fountain in DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C. In true Beaux-Arts fashion, Bacon regularly collaborated with sculptors on his designs for memorials—Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Karl Bitter, James Fraser, and (most often) Daniel Chester French, to mention but a few. Bacon is best known for his design of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., for which he was awarded the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects in 1923, the highest honor it bestows.