Harold E. Wigren was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a Hohenthal Scholar at Rice University and graduated with a B.A. in 1934. He received his M.A. in 1949 and Ed. D. in 1952, both at Teachers College, Columbia University. His doctoral dissertation, Planning for the Development of Educational Television in Houston, Texas: A Report of a Type B Project, can be considered one of the first doctoral dissertations in the public broadcasting field.
After finishing his undergraduate degree, Wigren worked as a teacher in Johnston Junior High School, Houston, Texas from 1936 to 1942. He served as a training aids officer and mathematics instructor at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston from 1942 to 1946. In 1947, Wigren became the director of audio-visual education for the Houston Independent School District. He served in this position until 1960, also holding the responsibilities of president of the Texas Association for Educational Technology from 1955 to 1957.
In 1961, Wigren joined the staff of the National Education Association (NEA), as the educational telecommunications specialist for the Division of Instruction and Development. During his time with the NEA, Wigren held many offices and responsibilities. He served as Coordinator for the NEA's Multi-Media Feasibility Study for the government of Guam, from 1967 to 1970. He led a team of educators and media specialists to make an on-site visitation to study the problems and needs of Guam and to develop a plan of action for the use of media on the island. Wigren also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Joint Council on Educational Telecommunications (JCET), including two terms as chairman.
Wigren also took on roles outside of the NEA. He was chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Copyright Law Revision from 1963 to 1976. This committee was formed to protect the rights of teachers as authors and users of copyrighted materials under the new 1976 Copyright Law.
Wigren expanded his responsibilities with the advent of new technology, including cable television and satellites. From 1973 to 1974, he served as president of PUBli-Cable, Inc., a consumer's group formed to protect the public interest in the development and growth of cable television. Wigren was an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Public Service Satellite Consortium from 1974 to 1977. He also served as Principal Investigator for the Pan-Pacific Satellite-Teachers' Meetings from 1974 to 1976. This experience helped him to originate and coordinate with NASA four monthly satellite teleconferences for teacher leaders in Alaska and Appalachia, in 1977, with the purpose of exploring the feasibility of using satellite communications to deliver NEA programs to remote locations.
Wigren's work with the NEA and other organizations often took him into the international scene. From 1959 to 1965, he served as the coordinator of CINE (Council on International Non-theatrical Events), a central agency to discover and select outstanding American films and television programs to represent the United States at international film festivals abroad. He was the NEA representative to several conferences including the 1964 and 1967 International Conferences on In-School Broadcasting and he was the US Representative at the UNESCO Symposium on Mass Media in Literacy and Adult Education in 1967. In 1966, Wigren served as a member of the Japan Prize Jury in Osaka, Japan.
After his retirement from the NEA in 1977, Wigren continued his interest in the field of educational television. He worked for the American library Association, serving as a consultant for the 1978 Satellite Teleconference on the U.S. Copyright Law. He also was a consultant for the Southern Westchester County, New York, Cable Television Consortium in 1979. He also pursued interests outside of his field, working as a board member and volunteer for various churches and charity work.