Balfour was born in Leven, Fife, the son of Henry Balfour, a foundry owner. He was educated at the High School of Dundee and St Andrews University, and in 1844 moved to Liverpool, where in 1851 he founded Balfour Williamson with Stephen Williamson and David Duncan.
He was a committed philanthropist, and founded the Duke Street Home, to provide better conditions for sailors, and orphanages for seamen's children.
He co-founded Edge Hill University (then Edge Hill College) in 1885, the first non-denominational teacher training college for women in England. There is a Halls of Residence called Balfour in his honour.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Methil Heritage website
- Robert Henry Lundie (1889). Alexander Balfour – A Memoir.
- Living on Campus | Accommodation | Undergraduate | Edge Hill University. Edgehill.ac.uk. Retrieved on 2014-06-17.
- Alexander Balfour by Albert Bruce-Joy, The Victorian Web, retrieved 1 January 2012