Early life and private career
Bredesen was born in Oceanport, New Jersey, the son of Norma Lucille (Walborn) and Philip Norman Bredesen. His parents divorced and his mother was employed as a bank teller. During Bredesen's childhood, his grandmother, who sewed for a living, lived with the family. Bredesen grew up in Shortsville, New York, 30 miles from Rochester. He attended Red Jacket Central Elementary and Secondary School in the adjoining village of Manchester.
He received a scholarship to Harvard University, where he graduated with an undergraduate degree in physics. In 1967, Bredesen moved to Lexington, Massachusetts, where he did classified work for Itek and received a draft deferment during the Vietnam War.
In 1968, Bredesen worked for the campaign of Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bredesen launched his first political campaign in 1969, when he ran for the Massachusetts State Senate. He was defeated by a popular incumbent Republican, Ronald MacKenzie.
Bredesen joined pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle & Company in 1971, and moved to London in 1973 to manage one of the company's divisions. In 1974, he married Andrea Conte. In 1975, the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where Conte had been recruited by Hospital Corporation of America. In Nashville, Bredesen founded HealthAmerica Corp., an insurance company. He sold his controlling interest in HealthAmerica in 1986, and because of the wealth he earned from the company, did not accept his gubernatorial salary.