Grace Hopper

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (née Murray; December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral.[1] One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first linkers. Hopper was the first to devise the theory of machine-independent programming languages, and the FLOW-MATIC programming language she created using this theory was later extended to create COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today.

Prior to joining the Navy, Hopper earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College. Hopper attempted to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected because she was 34 years old. She instead joined the Navy Reserves. Hopper began her computing career in 1944 when she worked on the Harvard Mark I team led by Howard H. Aiken. In 1949, she joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation and was part of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer. At Eckert–Mauchly she managed the development of one of the first COBOL compilers. She believed that a programming language based on English was possible. Her compiler converted English terms into machine code understood by computers. By 1952, Hopper had finished her program linker (originally called a compiler), which was written for the A-0 System.[2][3][4][5] During her wartime service, she co-authored three papers based on her work on the Harvard Mark 1.

In 1954, Eckert–Mauchly chose Hopper to lead their department for automatic programming, and she led the release of some of the first compiled languages like FLOW-MATIC. In 1959, she participated in the CODASYL consortium, which consulted Hopper to guide them in creating a machine-independent programming language. This led to the COBOL language, which was inspired by her idea of a language being based on English words.

During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world. A college at Yale University was renamed in her honor. In 1991, she received the National Medal of Technology. On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.[7]

“Grace Hopper.” Wikipedia, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper. Accessed 30 Apr. 2022.

Grace Hopper: The Math Genius who Taught Computers to Talk

Listen to this episode from Fierce on Spotify. You might not know the name Grace Hopper even though it’s hard to imagine our lives without her work. Born in 1906 to a family of engineers, Grace was fascinated with the mechanics of objects from a young age.

Grace Murray Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard,
c. 1960 Creative Commons Attribution

While Grace Hopper was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University in 1947,[38] her associates discovered a moth that was stuck in a relay and impeding the operation of the computer. Upon extraction, the insect was affixed to a log sheet for that day with the notation, “First actual case of a bug being found”.

Log book showing the “bug” found caught in a Mark II relay
Courtesy of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, VA., 1988. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

The remains of the moth can be found taped into the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.[38]

Who was Grace Hopper?

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