Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper Our Namesake

In the world of technology, most women do not get the recognition that Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper has received. Hopper is the mother of computing. Her development of the first computer compiler and the first computer programming language helped revolutionize the world of computers. Although Hopper had a career decorated with many rewards, she had to prove herself repeatedly. She once said, "If you do something once, people will call it an accident. If you do it twice, they call it a coincidence. But do it a third time and you've just proven a natural law!" She holds honoree doctorates from over thirty universities and many of her writings have influenced programs made today. Perseverance and knowledge are two traits that made her a great leader. She was determined not to let anyone get in the way of her vision of creating a much wider audience for computing.

Grace Murray Hopper Timeline

  • 1906 Born in New York
  • 1928 Graduated from Vassar College with Phi Beta Kappa
  • 1930 Earned her Masters in Math and Physics at Yale
  • 1934 Earned her Ph.D. in Math and Physics at Yale
  • 1941 Joined Vassar's faculty as a professor in Math and Physics
  • 1943 Joined the Naval Reserves
  • 1946 Returned to inactive duty; Joined Harvard's Computation Laboratory
  • 1949 Joined Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp as a senior mathematician
  • 1967 Recalled to active duty
  • 1971 Retired from the Navy
  • 1972 Asked to come out of retirement by the Navy
  • 1983 Appointed to Commodore
  • 1985 Appointed to Rear Admiral
  • 1986 Second retirement from the Navy; Became a consultant for Digital Equipment Corp (DEC)
  • 1992 Died January 1

It was unusual for a woman in the 1950's and 1960's to have the kind of job Hopper did. She was outstanding in marketing and had amazing technical skills. Her nickname in the navy was "Amazing Grace." People listened to her because she had the technical skills and the vision. She never gave up on her ideas. These qualities are what put her in the forefront of computing. Hopper had an edge over everyone in the computer business because she believed that there was always a way to improve on the technology. Through her dedication, knowledge, and determination she took the world of computers to a new level.

New York Days

Grace Hopper was born in 1906. From an early age, Hopper was good with gadgets. She would take apart alarm clocks just for fun.

Vassar College

In 1928, this New York native received her BA. in math and physics from Vassar College.

Naval Reserves

In 1943, during World War II, she joined the United States Naval Reserves. She was assigned to the Bureau of Ordinance Computation Project. There she became the third programmer of the world's first large-scale computer called the Mark I. When she saw it, all she could think about was taking it apart and figuring it out. "That was an impressive beast. She was fifty-one feet long, eight feet high, and five feet deep," said Hopper. She mastered the Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III. While trying to repair the Mark I she discovered a moth caught in a relay. She taped the moth in the log book and from that coined the phrase "a bug in the computer".

Eckert-Mauchly Corp

After her tour of duty, Hopper went on to work for Eckert-Mauchly Corporation. She wanted to provide businesses with computers that were both application-friendly and programmer-friendly. There, she mastered the UNIVAC I, the first large-scale electronic computer. She saw that the programmers would constantly have to retype certain commands for every program they did. Hopper encouraged them to write the commands once and place them in shared libraries of code. This reduced the amount of errors and stress for the programmers. Soon, the programs contained mnemonics that were transformed into binary codes that were executable by the computer. Hopper created a program that translated symbolic math codes into machine language. This allowed the programmers to store codes on magnetic tape and re-call them when they were needed. This was the first compiler.

Hopper believed that programming did not have to be a difficult task. Since computers only read binary codes, a series of 0s and 1s placed in a certain order that the computer understands, she believed that programs could be written in English and then translated into binary code. This program was known as FLOW-MATIC. This language helped the UNIVAC I and II understand twenty English statements. This programming language was used for typical business work, such as payroll and billing.

Recalled to Active Duty

In 1966, Hopper retired from the Naval Reserves, but was called back to active duty one year later. The navy wanted her to oversee a program to standardize its computer programs and their languages. One of the programs she help develop was COBOL.

Rear Admiral

During her rise up the Naval ladder, Hopper had to convince a lot of people to change their habits. On a daily basis, she heard someone say, "but that's how we've always done it." Hopper believed that change was good, and needed. "I'm going to shoot somebody for saying that someday," she would quip. "In the computer industry, with changes coming as fast as they do, you just can't afford to have people saying that." To prove that things did not always have to be done a certain way, Hopper had a clock on her wall that ran counter clockwise.

Amazing Grace

Hopper considered her greatest accomplishment to be all the young people she trained. She spent a lot of time lecturing and writing. Many of her analogies and examples have become legendary. Hopper is responsible for "debugging" the computer. She coined the phrase after finding a moth inside a computer. She carried a one-foot piece of wire with her to represent a nanosecond, based on the fact that one foot is the distance that light can travel in one nanosecond. She used this as a way to explain why programmers should not waste time, not even a microsecond.

Material contained herein is made available for the purpose of peer review and discussion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.