Ernő Rubik was born in Budapest in 1944, his father (Ernő Rubik Sr) was an engineer and glider designer; his mother was a writer and artist. He pursued sculpture for a time before studying and earning a degree in architecture in 1967. Soon afterwards he became a teacher in the interior design department at the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts in Budapest.
When he was 29 years old in early 1974, Ernő Rubik was teaching 3D design at the Academy of Applied Arts in Budapest. He was interested in shapes and liked to play with various cardboard and wooden figures. Around April 1974, he was pondering the ways in which the cube can be cut and divided, and became interested in the structural problem of whether the blocks could move independently without falling apart. He made a 2×2×2 cube which consisted of eight wooden cubes with holes drilled diagonally through them and joined together with rubber bands. Though the rubber bands soon broke, they lasted long enough to show that the cube made an interesting puzzle. Over the next six weeks he developed the mechanism for the 3×3×3 Cube. Upon scrambling the Cube he was afraid that it might be unsolvable except by precisely undoing all the previous moves, which would make it an impossible and uninteresting puzzle. It took him over a month of hard effort to solve the Cube. He started out by aligning the eight corner cubes correctly, and then discovered various sequences of moves for rearranging just a few cubes at a time.
Rubik applied for a Hungarian patent on his Cube in January 1975. He first approached Politechnika Ipari Szövetkezet (a Hungarian cooperative which manufactured plastic chess sets and similar games) around March 1975. He received Hungarian Patent HU00170062 for his cube in March 1977. Politechnika eventually supplied an initial order of 5000 cubes in late 1977. They were sold under the name "Bűvös Kocka" ("Magic Cube"). In February 1979 Tibor Laczi (a Hungarian businessman resident in Austria) took the Cube to Germany's Nuremberg Toy Fair, where on the final day, it was noticed by Tom Kremer the founder of the UK-based Seven Towns trading company, and Kremer arranged a worldwide deal for Rubik's Cube with Ideal Toys in September 1979.
In January 1980 Ernő Rubik travelled outside Communist eastern Europe for the first time to help Ideal promote the Cube at the international toy fairs. Ernő Rubik continued to design puzzles in the 1980s, most notably Rubik's Snake in 1981, and Rubik's Magic in 1986.
In 1982 he created the Rubik Scholarship Foundation and the Rubik Innovation Foundation to aid Hungarian designers and inventors. He founded his company, Rubik Studio Ltd., in 1983, and became its managing director. In 2017 he founded the Rubik Speedsolving Association to promote speedsolving, to support competitions, competitors and organizers as well as introducing of puzzles in education.