But it wasn't just hardscrabble circumstances that tempered the Man of Steel, Siegel's daughter said.
Laura Siegel Larson said Cleveland's public library, comic pages and high school mentors all nurtured her father's creativity.
"The encouragement that he received from his English teachers and the editors at the Glenville High School newspaper and the literary magazine gave my dad a real confidence in his talents," she said by phone from Los Angeles.
The school even allowed Siegel to mimeograph the science-fiction magazine he wrote and sold by mail subscription, she said.
The tale of Superman's first moments begins in Siegel's bedroom. He once recalled coming up with the idea while looking up at the stars and imaging a powerful hero who looked out for those in distress.
Today, Siegel's home is easy to pick out on a street with a mix of renovated and dilapidated homes: a stylized red Superman "S'' adorns the fence and a sign identifies the home as "the house where Superman was born."
And like the Man of Steel, the neighborhood is tough.
"You better have 'S' on your chest if you come out after dark," grinned Tommie Jones, 50, helping move furniture several doors away.
Hattie Gray, 61, who moved into the home nearly 30 years ago unaware of its history, has gotten used to the parade of Superman fans walking by or knocking, trying to savor a piece of comics lure.
"I get people all the time, people all the way from Japan, from Australia," she said. "It's a great joy to live here."
The top floor, where Siegel went to write, still offers the nighttime view of the sky that inspired Siegel.
Gray has heard the talk about Glenville being tough, but said crime that might merit Superman's attention can be found anywhere. "The neighborhood is not really bad, it's just the people are poor. That's all," she said.