Ted Taylor was born in 1925 in Mexico City, Mexico. During WWII, from 1943-1946, he served on active duty in the United States Navy. He then received a bachelor's degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1945, pursued a master's degree from the University of California Berkeley, and later received a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Cornell University in 1954. From 1948-1956, Taylor worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In that time, Taylor designed fission bombs of minimal size and maximal explosion capacity. In 1956, he left Los Alamos and moved to General Atomics, where he directed Project Orion, whose mission was to develop a nuclear-powered interplanetary spacecraft.
In 1964, Taylor began work for the Defense Department and was the deputy director of the Defense Atomic Support Agency. There, he discovered how his knowledge of the dangerous bombs he developed at Los Alamos had real-world implications. In 1980, Taylor started Nova Inc., which sought to develop alternatives to nuclear energy.