Pierce was born in 1874 in Orrington, Maine and attended Bowdoin College before dropping out. The college would confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on Pierce in 1956. In 1960 a second honorary Doctor of Laws was conferred on him by Brown University, where he was a trustee.
Pierce, who had worked as the manager of a lumber business in his twenties, gave up a comfortable $100 a week salary to become a clerk at A.A. Housman & Company in 1901. In 1921, Pierce became sole managing partner of the firm and led it through a major transformation becoming one of the leading Wall Street brokerage firms. In 1927, the firm was renamed E.A. Pierce & Co. in honor of Pierce's role in leading the firm. He died in December 1974 at the age of 100.