Northrop University was founded in 1942 by Jack Northrop of Northrop Aviation. Originally named the Northrop Aeronautical Institute, the school opened for classes in June of 1946 to 412 students committed to and/or already employed by Northrop Aviation. The school was founded by Jack Northrop for the purpose of training aeronautical engineers and mechanics.

In 1953, Northrop Aeronautical Institute became Northrop Institute of Technology with expanded curriculum. In 1971, the university was renamed Northrop University.

Administered by previous alumni and faculty, the University offered bachelors and masters degree programs in aeronautical sciences, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science and design engineering project management, industrial chemistry, toxicology and forensic, defense and strategy.

In 1975 the school received a large donation from its original founder to build the American Hall of Aviation. The museum enjoyed great notoriety from its housing of the David D. Hatfield collection of aviation history; by far the largest collection of aviation history to ever be displayed at any one location.

Northrop University was accredited by the Western Association of School and Colleges (WASC). WASC is one of the nationally recognized accrediting bodies in the United States. Northrop University received an accredited standard in 1960, and the final month and year of being accredited was February 1992.