Sam Wakefield was born at Stockport, Cheshire, in 1860, the son of a master baker and confectioner. From the age of fourteen he worked for the Manchester cotton merchants Harlow Goldschmidt, and at the age of nineteen he was sent by the firm to France, Belgium and Holland to learn the cotton trade. At the age of twenty-five he became the manager of George Balfe's cotton spinning mill in Stockport, and married Balfe's daughter, Jane. The couple had four children, of whom three died during a typhoid epidemic. The children's deaths led the couple to accept an offer from Jardine, Matheson & Co. in China for Sam Wakefield to develop the construction and operation of cotton mills on the China coast. In China Wakefield belonged to the Unitarian Church, a masonic lodge and an amateur dramatic group. In 1900 Jane Wakefield travelled to Japan to escape the Boxer Rebellion, but contracted fever, and died in a hospital in Kobe. Wakefield remarried, and had two daughters by his second marriage.
On returning to Great Britain, Wakefield became an established member of the textile trade. He was a member of the Textile Institute and the British Association of Managers of Textile Works, and served as President of the Stockport District Mill Overlookers' Association. A lecture he delivered to the latter association in November 1914 was printed as A preliminary investigation concerning the diameters of yarns (Manchester, c. 1915). His Cotton doubling and twisting was issued in four volumes by Marsden & Co., Manchester, 1916-1917, and reprinted in 1929-1930. For a time he was general manager of the Fabrica Tejidos Obregon, Barranquilla, Colombia. He was also associated with the Textile world journal.