Mervin Kelly received his B.S. in Physics from the Missouri School of Mines (now the Missouri University of Science and Technology) in 1914, his M.S. degree in Mathematics from University of Kentucky in 1915, and his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1918. He worked at Western Electric Company, from 1918 to 1925. He was a long time researcher at Bell Labs, becoming president from 1951 to 1959. He formed the research group which developed the transistor, led by William Shockley.
His work for the World War II effort was classified. He was asked several times to take government positions, but always refused.
He traveled overseas to Europe to promote the work Bell Labs was doing. He had a regimented day, that began with tulip gardening at 5 am, having his driver drive at top speed to work, and after work reading until 12. After he retired, he worked for IBM as a consultant.