Daniel J. Corkery was born in Chicago on February 25, 1853 to Timothy and Julia Corkery, both Irish immigrants born at historic Blarney Castle, who came to Chicago in 1849. Daniel went to St. John's Parochial School and also Chicago Public Schools, but he left school in 1867 at the age of fourteen to earn money to help with the family expenses. His first job was carrying water for workers building the Chicago Sewer system. Later he helped his father who owned two teams of horses. He went to work unloading coal from ships docked on Lake Michigan and driving a one-horse coal wagon.
In 1872, Daniel purchased a coal wagon and began his lifelong career as a coal merchant. Through hard work and ingenuity, Daniel Corkery started his own company, amassing a fortune of $1.5 million, while taking an active role in politics: he served as a member of the Board of Education and City Election Commissioner.
Daniel J. Corkery married Mary A. Austin Corkery in December of 1878. Mary was the daughter of Lawrence and Julia Austin. Lawrence Austin was one of Chicago's earliest settlers. Daniel and Mary had only one child, a daughter named Julia, who died when only three years old. Daniel J. Corkery became seriously ill as a result of appendicitis. He died in his home at 2625 South Canal Street on June 25, 1894 following complications from an operation to remove his appendix.