James A. Rafferty was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 4th, 1886. Rafferty attended the Lewis Institute of Technology where he pursued engineering and chemistry. He graduated in 1908 and began working for the People's Gas, Light, and Coke Company and the Linde Air Products Company. The Linde Air Products company would eventually become a department of the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation.
Rafferty was successful in the company and became a general manager at Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation in 1920. Four years later, he was promoted to the position of Vice President (1924-1929), and would soon become the President (1929-1944) and Chairman of the Board (beginning 1944). As Chairman, Rafferty led Union Carbide’s collaborative efforts with the US federal government to supply the military with synthetic rubber and to develop atomic energy during World War II. In 1948, as a result of this collaboration, Rafferty was chosen for the Chemical Industry Award that year. Rafferty subsequently served as Chairman of the Corporation's new product development committee until his death on December 19th, 1951.