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Robert McCracken was born in Newmonkland, Lanark, to Mary Nisbet McCracken (née McHutchison) and Robert McCracken, a master builder. During the First World War he served as a signalman at the Royal Navy base HMS Vivid at Devonport. In 1920 he attended evening classes in architecture at The Glasgow School of Art while working as an apprentice architect. During this period his place of residence is listed as Airdrie. On February 25 1929 he married Jeanie Duncan Meffan, and on 3 March they travelled to the USA aboard the Montroyal to New Brunswick. They returned from New York to Scotland a year later. Robert McCracken is listed on The Glasgow School of Art's World War One Roll of Honour.
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