Grace Murray Hopper
by Edward Ortiz
A human must turn information into intelligence or knowledge. We've tended to forget that no computer will ever ask a new question.
One of the 20th century's brilliant visionaries of computers and applications came to the field late in life.
As a 37 year old and holder of a mathematics doctorate from Yale, Hopper reported to active Navy duty on July 1944. Little did she know that she was stepping into computer history. Hopper was ordered to report to the
legendary Howard Aiken who headed the Navy's Bureau of Ships
Computation Project at Harvard. This was to be her first introduction to computers,
mainly the Mark 1 computer. The Mark 1 was the first sequentially programmed computer and it was Hopper's job to write the manual for it. This demanding task would yield a 500 page manual.
After World War II when most were returning to civilian life, Hopper's
desire was to stay in the Navy. However. she was denied a transfer from
Naval reserve to regular Navy duty because she was two years past the
deadline. Hopper would spend the following years as one of the few
teaching Mathematics at the college level, mainly at Vassar and
Hopper would return to active duty on August of 1967 at the request of
Navy. Her return would find her leading the Navy's Naval Data Automation Command. Ironically, Hopper retired from the Navy as its oldest personnel-the Navy's only tireless and vibrant 74 year old!
Hopper had been interested in mathematics from an
early age and her parents would find the young girl
dismantling clocks to discover their inner workings. This curiosity would later serve her well with computer programming languages and their
One of Hopper's beliefs was that computers were as applicable to business as they were to science. To this end Hopper took a position at Eckert-Mauchly
Computer Corporation. It was considered a risky career move from the Navy to
the world of business for Hopper. It was at Eckert-Mauchly that Hopper
work on the UNIVAC 1-the first large scale electronic computer.
Perhaps one of the greatest of Hopper's contributions to computer
was her belief that computer programs could be written in English.
developed a computer program called a compile. A compiler was software
could translate a whole set of programmer's instructions into binary
language. Another Hopper invention was the Flow-Matic program.
the Flow-Matic greatly influenced the development of the computer
COBOL. It is now commonly believed that without Hopper's contribution
would not have developed as it did, and computer language applications
the world of business would have not as evolved as elegantly.
One of Hopper's more curious contributions to the computer was the
"bug". During work on the Mark II computer, Hopper became aware that
machine was yielding erroneous results. On examining the inner workings
the computer a moth was found, dead, near a relay. The moniker "bug"
"debugging" stuck from that day forward-it was to be a bit of trivia
Hopper preferred to live down.
Hopper, a true visionary, had a clock in her office that ran
counter-clockwise. She used the clock to prove the point that there are
ways to conceptualize solutions to problems. It is not surprising that
during her brilliant career Hopper would encounter a great tide of
about the value of her compilers, and male chauvinism to a woman's
participation in the field of computer science. Hopper was a great
in raising the standards of the computer industry and the quality of
information that computers were destined to handle. When Grace Hopper
asked about the computer and its relationship to information and
she remarked, "A human must turn information into intelligence or
We've tended to forget that no computer will ever ask a new question."
A tireless and inspirational speaker, Hopper was promoted to the rank
Rear Admiral in November of 1985. When she retired, Rear Admiral Hopper
one of the last of the World War II participants to leave active duty.
died in her sleep on January 1, 1992. She was buried at Arlington
with full honors. Grace Hopper was an inspiration to women everywhere,
she persevered and succeeded in a field in which few women had dared to
enter at the time. The field of computer science owes a great debt to
one of the Navy's most fascinating and visionary individuals.