Tom Harkin was born in the small village of Cumming, Iowa on November 19th 1939. His father was a coal miner and his mother a Slovenian immigrant. He spent all of his early life in Cumming with his five siblings and his parents.
He joined the Navy in the same year, serving until 1967. Harkin was stationed in Japan where he undertook the task of ferrying damaged aircraft from Vietnam to Japan. He was also stationed in Cuba for a time, running reconnaissance missions over communist Cuba.
In 1972 he graduated from Law school, returned to Iowa, and ran against the Republican congressman, William Scherle. Harkin was defeated however, and he practised law for the next two years. Harkin was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 and served there until being elected to the US senate in 1984.
Harkin married Minnesota native Ruth Raduenz in 1968 and has two daughters: Amy, born in 1976, and Jenny, born in 1981.