Willard Young was born on April 30, 1852, in Salt Lake City. He was the only son of Brigham Young and Clarissa Ross Young. His mother died when he was six years old. He attended the Deseret University. Because he was an excellent scholar, John R. Park, president of the university, named him as the candidate to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. His father let him accept the appointment only if he went as a missionary, and he was set apart to this mission.
He graduated from West Point in 1875 and was appointed a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While working for the Corps of Engineers, Young was involved in making detailed maps of northern Utah and southern Idaho.
His first assignment was at Willets Point, New York, from 1875 to 1877. From 1877 to 1879, he worked in the geographical survey of the United States west of the 100th meridian. He then became an instructor and later a professor at West Point, where he taught until 1883. In 1886, he was advanced to the rank of captain.
Young was the local supervisor in the construction of the Cascade Locks in Oregon. From October 1889 to June 1890, he was stationed in Memphis, Tennessee, supervising the Third District of the Mississippi River. He resigned from the Army in 1891.
From 1891 to 1893, he was president of the Salt Lake City–based Young University. After it ceased operation in 1894, he became city engineer in Salt Lake City and then was appointed Utah’s first state engineer. At the start of the Spanish-American War, he was appointed brigadier-general of the Utah National Guard.
He served as colonel of the Second Regiment of U.S. Volunteer Engineers from May 1898 to May 1899.
From 1899 to 1902, he went to New York City as general manager of the National Contracting Company, and later became president. Some of what he oversaw was some of the works of the Niagra Falls Power Company, New Orleans main drainage works, several tunnels for the Boston Subway, a sewer system for Boston, and a dam for the Hudson River Power Company.
Young was president of LDS Business College from 1906 to 1915.
He joined the army again when World War I broke out and was appointed U.S. Agent in charge of all Army engineering work on the Missouri River (1917–1919). He was in charge of the Kansas City Engineer District.
In 1919, he became superintendent of the Church’s building activities.
He held leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as stake high councilor, counselor to the president of the Logan Utah Temple, and was a member of the Church Board of Education
Young and his wife, Harriet, had four children who lived to adulthood. He died in Salt Lake City, Utah, on July 25, 1936.