He was born in Weimar, the illegitimate child of Johanna Carolina Dorothea Bechstein and Hubert Dupontreau, a French emigrant who disappeared before the birth of the child; Ludwig thus grew up very poor in his first nine years. His situation improved only when his uncle Johann Matthäus Bechstein, a renowned naturalist and forester living in Meiningen in the district of Schmalkalden-Meiningen in Thuringia, adopted him in 1810. He was sent to school, and in 1818, started an apprenticeship as an pharmacist.
From 1829 to 1831 he studied philosophy and literature in Leipzig and Munich thanks to a stipend granted by Duke Bernhard II of Sachsen-Meiningen, who hired him subsequently as a librarian. This lifetime post provided Bechstein with a continuous income, while leaving him a lot of freedom to pursue his own interests and writing.
Bechstein published many works and was a successful author of his time. His German Fairy Tale Book was even more popular than the Brothers Grimm's collection when it was first published in 1845. He published several collections of folk tales, and also published romances, poems, and novels.
- Thüringische Volksmärchen (1823)
- Sonettenkränze (1826, through which Duke Bernhard became interested in him)
- The Children of Haymon (1830, epic poem)
- Der Totentanz (The Dance of Death, 1831, epic poem)
- Grimmenthal (1833, novel)
- Luther (1834)
- The Legend Treasure and the Legendary Cycles of Thuringia (1835–38)
- Fahrten eines Musikanten (Journeys of a Musician, 1836–37, novel)
- Deutsches Märchenbuch (German Fairy-Tale Book, 1845; 41st ed., 1893); French translation with introduction and comments: Corinne and Claude Lecouteux, Paris, José Corti, 2010 (collection Merveilleux)
- New Natural History of Pet Birds (1846, humorous didactic poem)
- Berthold der Student (1850, novel)
- Deutsches Sagenbuch (1853)
- Thüringer Sagenbuch (1858)
- Thuringia's Royal House (1865)
Schools named after Ludwig Bechstein
- Staatliche Grundschule 6, Erfurt: Bechsteinschule (public elementary school)
- "Bechstein, Ludwig". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Bechstein, Ludwig". Encyclopedia Americana.