Son of a postal worker, Hugh Joseph Ward was born March 8, 1909 in Philadelphia. He was the youngest of six children in an Irish Catholic family.
After high school, he continued his education by taking night classes at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art while working as a cartoonist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
In 1931, at age twenty-two, he began to traveling to New York City in order to see any pulp publishers who would take the time to look at his paintings, hoping to find work for western-themed magazines. He made his first sale to Wild West Stories and Complete Novel Magazine. Covers by H.J. Ward were soon appearing on Ace-High Western, Argosy, Double Detective, Prison Life Stories, Rangeland Love, Easy Money, Red Star Detective, and Red Star Mystery.
Hugh married Viola Conley, a typist for a publishing company who he had met while working in Philadelphia, in August of 1934, and the following year they had a daughter, Patricia.
H. J. Ward sold his freelance pulp covers to many different publishers, but the majority of his work was published by Trojan Publications. Ward became their top artist, creating many iconic pulp covers for their magazines, such as Bedtime Stories, Lone Ranger, Speed Adventure, Spicy Adventure, Spicy Detective, Spicy Western, Super Detective, Tattle Tales, and Private Detective.
Ward was inducted into the Army on April 13, 1944. Soon after enlistment, Ward began to experience problems with his shoulder. Medical examiners determined that he had a lung tumor. He died at age 35 in February 7, 1945.
Although he produced an extraordinary amount of covers in his short life, the one that has been reproduced more than any other was the first painting that was ever done of Superman, which hung in the offices of DC comics for decades.