Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
(December 9 1906
– January 1 1992
) was an American computer scientist
and United States Naval
officer. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers
of the Harvard Mark I
calculator, and she developed the first compiler
for a computer programming language
. Because of the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace".
Early life and education
Hopper was born Grace Brewster Murray
in New York City
. For her prep school education, Hopper attended the Hartridge School
in Plainfield, NJ
. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa
from Vassar College
with a bachelor's degree
in 1928 and pursued her graduate education
at Yale University
, where she received a Master's degree
in those subjects in 1930. She married Vincent Hopper (a Ph.D. in English who for many years was chairman of the NYU English department) in 1930. In 1934 she received a Ph.D.
in mathematics. Her dissertation
was titled New Types of Irreducibility Criteria
. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar
in 1931, and by 1941 she was an associate professor
. She and Dr. Vincent Hopper divorced in 1945.
In 1949, Hopper became an employee of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation
and joined the team developing the UNIVAC I
. In the early 1950s the company was taken over by the Remington Rand
corporation and it was while she was working for them that her original compiler
work was done. The compiler was known as the A compiler and its first version was A-0
. Later versions were released commercially as the ARITH-MATIC
She later returned to the Navy where she worked on validation software for the programming language COBOL
and its compiler. COBOL was defined by the CODASYL
committee which extended her FLOW-MATIC language with some ideas from the IBM
equivalent, the COMTRAN
. However, it was her idea that programs could be written in a language that was close to English rather than in machine code
or languages close to machine code (such as assembly language
), which is how it was normally done at that time. It is fair to say that COBOL was based very much on her philosophy.
In the 1970s, she pioneered the implementation of standards
for testing computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming languages
such as FORTRAN
. The Navy tests for conformance to these standards led to significant convergence among the programming language dialects
of the major computer vendors. In the 1980s, these tests (and their official administration) were assumed by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), known today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology
Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Commander at the end of 1966. She was recalled to active duty in August of 1967 for a six-month period that turned into an indefinite assignment. She again retired in 1971 but was asked to return to active duty again in 1972. She was promoted to Captain in 1973 by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr..
After Rep. Philip Crane saw her on a March 1983 segment of 60 Minutes, he championed H.J.RES.341 a joint resolution in the House of Representatives which led to her promotion to Commodore by special Presidential appointment. In 1985, the rank of Commodore was renamed Rear Admiral, Lower Half. She retired (involuntarily) from the Navy on August 14, 1986. At a celebration held in Boston on the USS Constitution to celebrate her retirement, Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award possible by the Department of Defense. At the moment of her retirement, she was the oldest officer in the United States Navy, and aboard the oldest ship in the United States Navy.
She was then hired as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, a position she retained until her death in 1992, aged 85.
Her primary activity in this capacity was as a Goodwill Ambassador, lecturing widely on the early days of computers, her career, and on efforts that computer vendors could take to make life easier for their users. She visited a large fraction of Digital's engineering facilities where she generally received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks. She always wore her Navy full dress uniform to these lectures.
She was laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery; Section 59, grave 973.
The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center is located at 7 Grace Hopper Avenue in Monterey, California.
Grace Murray Hopper Park, located on South Joyce Street in Arlington, Virginia, is a small memorial park in front of her former residence (River House Apartments) and is now owned by Arlington County, Virginia.
Women at the world's largest software company, Microsoft Corporation, formed an employee group called "Hoppers" and established a scholarship in her honor. Hoppers has over 3000 members worldwide.
Brewster Academy, a school located in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, USA, dedicated their computer lab to her in 1985, calling it the Grace Murray Hopper Center for Computer Learning. Hopper had spent her childhood summers at a family home in Wolfeboro.
An administration building on Naval Support Activity Annapolis (Previously known as Naval Station Annapolis) in Annapolis, Maryland is named "The Grace Hopper Building" in her honor.
Throughout much of her later career, Grace Hopper was much in demand as a speaker at various computer-related events. She was well-known for her lively and irreverent speaking style, as well as a rich treasury of early "war stories".
- While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University, her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay and thereby impeding operation, whereupon she remarked that they were "debugging" the system. Though the term computer bug cannot be definitively attributed to Admiral Hopper, she did bring the term into popularity. The remains of the moth can be found in the group's log book at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
- Grace Hopper is famous for her nanoseconds visual aid. People (such as generals and admirals) used to ask her why satellite communication took so long. She started handing out pieces of wire which were just under one foot long, which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She gave these pieces of wire the metonym "nanoseconds." Later she used the same pieces of wire to illustrate why computers had to be small to be fast. At many of her talks and visits, she handed out "nanoseconds" to everyone in the audience, contrasting them with a coil of wire nearly a thousand feet long, representing a microsecond. Later, while giving these lectures while working for DEC, she passed out packets of pepper which she called picoseconds.
- The famous quotation "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission" is often attributed to Grace Hopper.
- Also attributed to her is the quote, "A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for."
During the same interview, she was asked if she has an open mind. She replied, "I believe in having an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out."
Obituary notices by:
- Betts, Mitch (Computerworld 26: 14, 1992)
- Bromberg, Howard (IEEE Software 9: 103–104, 1992)
- Danca, Richard A. (Federal Computing Week 6: 26–27, 1992)
- Hancock, Bill (Digital Review 9: 40, 1992)
- Power, Kevin (Government Computer News 11: 70, 1992)
- Sammet, J.E. (Communications of the ACM 35: 128–132, 1992)
- Weiss, Eric A. (IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 14: 56–58, 1992)