The son of William Einar and Grace Kathryn Horngren was born on October 28, 1926 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After graduating from Milwaukee's Washington High School in 1944, he joined the army. After 26 months in the army, he enrolled at Marquette University where he was elected to Beta Alpha Psi in 1947.
He was graduated as valedictorian from Marquette in 1949. Following graduation, he joined the accounting firm of KPMG Peat Marwick as a staff auditor. In 1950, he taught full time at Spencerian College, a commercial business college. He later enrolled at Harvard University where he received a master's degree in 1952. In 1953, he was certified as a CPA (Wisconsin). He received a doctor's degree from the University of Chicago in 1955. While pursuing his doctoral study at Chicago, he was a full-time member of the faculty serving as an instructor (1952-54) and assistant professor (1954-55).
Upon receiving his doctorate, he returned to his alma mater, Marquette University, where he served one year as an assistant professor (1955-56). He then joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee as an associate professor (1956-59). In 1959, he left Milwaukee to return to the University of Chicago where he served as an associate professor (1959-63) and professor (1963-66) before moving to Stanford University in 1966. In 1973, he was named the Edmund W. Littlefield Professor of Accounting at Stanford, the position he currently holds.
He has been active in professional organizations, serving as a member of the APB (1968-73), the FASB Advisory Council (1976-80), and a trustee of the Financial Accounting Foundation (1984-89). He has been president (1976-77) and director of research (1964-66) of the AAA. He has also served as a member of many AAA committees including the Committee on the CPA Examination (1960, also chairman), Committee on Teaching Methods (1963), Long-Range Planning Committee (1966-67), and Committee on the Future Structure, Content, and Scope of Accounting Education (1984-86). He is currently a member of the AAA's Accounting Education Change Commission. He has served as a member of the AICPA's Council (1978-81), Project Advisory Committee on Cash Flow Analysis and the Funds Statement (1960-61), Board of Managers of the Professional Development Division (1965-67), Future Issues Committee (1981-86), and Committee on Governance and Structure (1987-90). He has also been active in the NAA serving as a member of the Committee on Research Planning (1963-65) and the Board of Regents of the Institute of Management Accounting (1981-84).
He has spoken before many professional groups and has written numerous articles for professional journals. He has also authored a number of books including Cost Accounting: A Managerial Emphasis (1962), 6th edition in 1987 with George Foster; Introduction to Management Accounting (1965), 8th edition in 1990 with Gary L. Sundem; Introduction to Financial Accounting (1981), 4th edition in 1990 with Gary L. Sundem; Accounting with Walter T. Harrison, Jr. (1989), CPA Problems and Approaches to Solutions with J. A. Leer (2 volumes, 1959), and Readings in Accounting Theory with S. Davidson, D. Green, and G. Sorter (1965). He has served on the editorial board of Research in Governmental and Nonprofit Accounting (1982-88), the Journal of Accounting Research (1962-67), and the board of consulting editors of Management Services (1962-65). Since 1978, he has served as the consulting editor for the Prentice-Hall Series in Accounting.
In 1973, he received the Alumni Professional Achievement Award of Marquette University and the first Outstanding Educator Award granted by the AAA. He is the only professor to receive both the Faculty Excellence Award (1975) and the Distinguished Professor Award (1983) issued by the California Society of CPAs. In 1985, he was the recipient of the first Outstanding Accounting Educator Award granted by the American Institute of CPAs. An honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree was bestowed upon him by Marquette University (1976) and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by DePaul University (1985).
He married Joan Estelle Knickelbine on September 6, 1952; they have four children. In honor of his wife, he established the Joan E. Horngren Professorship in Accounting at Stanford in 1984. In his leisure time he enjoys his grandchildren, traveling, and reading nonfiction.