Theodore Vail, the Folio's previous owner, died in 1920. During his career, he effectively invented the telephone business in the United States.
As Head of the American Bell Telephone Company (later AT&T), he oversaw a communications revolution that established the telephone as a necessity of everyday life, instituting phone services between New York and San Francisco by 1915, and America and Europe a year later.
Vail's biographer Albert Paine described his "collector's love of books" and "tendency to buy generously when he was in the mood - by wholesale, so to speak - it being always easier to buy two pictures than one, and collections of bric-a-brac rather than a single piece".
Vail himself said "I don't understand my fad for collecting...if I ever get rich enough I am going to have a collection of a curious sort. I am going to have the finest example of each kind of art in the world."
The First Folio was presumably acquired as part of this plan.
It has not been possible to trace the provenance of the Folio past Vail's ownership. The volume is not listed in Sidney Lee's 1902 census of extant copies, and so was presumably in private hands at this point.
Lord Brotherton's librarian, J. A. Symington, speculated that the Folio was "most probably taken to America in the early days".