Henry Solomon Lehr was born in Ohltown, Ohio on March 8th, 1838. In 1854, Lehr earned his teaching certification and began part-time teaching while working as a farm hand. He then enrolled at Mount Union College in March 1857 but his studies were halted by the American Civil War. Post-war, Lehr moved to Ada, Ohio to become a schoolmaster, and then in 1871 he established the Northwestern Ohio Normal School, later to become Ohio Northern University.
As the founder and first president of Ohio Northern University, Henry Lehr served from 1871 to 1900. Lehr established the focus of the university on professional education, creating programs for education, engineering, pharmacy, and law.