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Grace Murray Hopper

December 9 1906, New York City, USA;
January 1 1991, Alexandria, VA, USA


Grace Hopper 1945

principal papers
COBOL

hardware

software
COBOL, A/O

 

keywords
Compilers

 

see also

 

related subjects

Achievement

Naval officer and computer scientist developed the first working compiler and led the effort in the 1960s to develop COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) a programming language still in use.


Hopper 1950's

Biography

Grace Hopper was born Grace Brewster Murray, the oldest of three children. Her father, Walter Murray, was an insurance broker while her mother, Mary Van Horne, had a passion for mathematics which she passed on to her daughter. Both Grace's parents believed that she and her sister should have an education of the same quality as her brother.

In 1928 she graduated from Vassar College with a BA in mathematics and physics and joined the Vassar faculty. While an instructor at Vassar, she continued her studies in mathematics at Yale University, where she earned an MA in 1930 and a PhD in 1934. She was one of four women in a doctoral program of ten students,and her doctorate in mathematics was a rare accomplishment in its day.

Hopper joined the military as soon as the United States entered World War II. However at 34 she was too old (and not heavy enough for her height) to enlist and as a mathematics professor her job was considered essential to the war effort. She was determined to join the Navy and, despite being told that she could serve her country best by remaining in her teaching post at Vassar College,

After initial training at Midshipman's School, after which she was commissioned a Lieutenant, Hopper was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at the Cruft Laboratories at Harvard University.

Upon her arrival at Cruft Laboratory she met the Mark I computer. For her it was an attractive gadget, similar to the alarm clocks of her youth; she could hardly wait to disassemble it and figure it out...
She became the third person to program the Mark I.
Aiken gave her a programming task right after she arrived at Harvard which was to compute the coefficients of the arctan series by next Thursday. By the end of the war, Hopper was working on the Harvard Mark II computer. She resigned her post at Vassar College so that she could remain at Harvard where she was appointed a Research Fellow in Engineering Sciences and Applied Physics in the Computation Laboratory. She continued to work on the Mark II, then later on the Mark III computer.

In 1949 Hopper joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a Senior Mathematician and there she worked with John Eckert and John Mauchly on the UNIVAC computer. She designed an improved compiler while working for the company and was part of the team which developed Flow-Matic, the first English-language compiler. In 1951 a maintenance engineer discovered a moth stuck in one of the relais. She pasted the "computer bug" as it is known from now on, into the UNIVAC I logbook. Earning eternal fame.

bug

Perhaps her best-known contribution to computing was the invention of the compiler (1952), the intermediate program that translates English language instructions into the language of the target computer. She did this, she said, because she was lazy and hoped that "the programmer may return to being a mathematician''. Her work embodied or foreshadowed enormous
numbers of developments that are now the core of digital computing: subroutines, formula translation, relative addressing, the linking loader, code optimization, and even symbolic manipulation of the kind embodied in mathematics. "Nobody believed that," she said. "I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic." Indeed it may seem obvious to us today that this was to be the future for computing. This was extremely visionairy of Hopper.

In 1950 the Remington Rand Corporation acquired the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and changed its name to the UNIVAC Division of Remington Rand. Hopper became a Systems Engineer and Director of Automatic Programming Development of the UNIVAC Division. She continued her work on compilers, publishing her first paper on that topic in 1952. She then participated in the work to produce specifications for a common business language. Since Flow-Matic was the only existing business language at that time, it was inevitable that it should provide the foundations for the specification of the language COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) which eventually would be pubshed in 1959.

She had another important goal relating to compilers, namely that there should be a certain standardisation. Her aim was that there should be international standardisation of computer languages and she strongly advocated validation procedures.

Hopper was not one to hold a single job for a long time. She was involved both with the academic world and with the Navy during the time that she held her positions at the Remington Rand Corporation and the Sperry Corporation. Both merged in 1955. Her connections with the academic world were many, sometimes she held visiting positions. Like in 1959 when she was a Visiting Lecturer at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania. She was a consultant and lecturer for the United States Naval Reserve up to her retirement in December 1966, by which time she had reached the rank of Commander.

The Navy and Hopper were not apart for very long for, in August 1967, she was recalled to active duty in the Navy. At this time she took military leave from the Sperry Corporation and did not return to that job. She retired in 1971 when she reached the age of 65. Her return to the Navy though was intended to be for only six months:

... at the request of Norman Ream, then Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Automatic Data Processing. After these six months were up, her orders were changed to say her services would be needed indefinitely.

After a career which involved many jobs in numerous quite different areas, one might have expected her to look forward to a quiet retirement. However, this was not her style and, remarkably, she was appointed as senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation after retiring from the Navy, a position she held until 1990. Her job involved representing:

... Digital at computer industry forums, making presentations on advanced computing concepts and the value of information and data, and serving as a corporation liaison with educational institutions.

For her pioneering work and leadership in the development of computer software, and for her impact and influence on the computing profession and her fellow colleagues, and for her pioneering work and leadership in the development of important concepts for mathematical and business compilers, and for her contributions to the development and acceptance of English-language, problem-oriented programming, and for her outstanding work and continued efforts in the education and training of men and women for careers in computer science and data processing.
She was the first woman to receive America's highest technology award as an individual. The award recognises her as a computer pioneer, who spent a half century helping keep America on the leading edge of high technology.

Grace Murray Hopper spent much of her inventive career proving that something that's never been done before isn't impossible.

It was this kind of positive thinking that inspired Hopper to invent the first computer "compiler" in 1952. This revolutionary software facilitated the first automatic programming of computer language. Before Hopper's invention, programmers had to write lengthy instructions in binary code (computer language) for every new piece of software. Because binary code consists solely of 0's and 1's, it was difficult for programmers to get through their time-consuming tasks without many frustrating mistakes.

Hopper knew there had to be a solution to this dilemma. Determined, she wrote a new program which freed software developers from having to write repetitive binary code. Each time the computer needed instructions that were common to all programs, the compiler would have the computer refer to codes in its own memory.

The compiler was a time and error-saving breakthrough for the computer world, but Hopper didn't stop there. She also invented COBOL, the first user-friendly business software program, which is still in use today.

Admiral Hopper actively participated in the first meetings to formulate specifications for a common business language. She was one of the two technical advisers to the resulting CODASYL Executive Committee, and several of her staff were members of the CODASYL Short Range Committee to define the basic COBOL language design. The design was greatly influenced by FLOW-MATIC. As one member of the Short Range Committee stated, [FLOW-MATIC] was the only business-oriented programming language in use at the time COBOL development started. Without FLOW-MATIC we probably never would have had a COBOL''. The first COBOL specifications appeared in 1959.

By the time she retired in 1986, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper had taken her place in history by questioning the impossible. With a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics from Yale University, she based her success as a computer pioneer on a solid education and a strong and inquisitive will. In her naval office, she hung a clock that ran counterclockwise as a reminder of the key principle to her success: most problems have more than one solution.

Chronology

Grace was educated at two private schools for girls, namely Graham School and Schoonmakers School both in New York City. Intending to enter Vassar College in 1923 she failed a Latin examination and was required to wait another year.

1923

Spent the academic year at Hartridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey

1924

Entered Vassar College in 1924. She studied mathematics and physics at Vassar College

1928

graduating with a BA.

After graduating she undertook research in mathematics at Yale University.

1930

Grace Murray married Vincent Foster Hopper, an English teacher from New York University. He died in 1945 during WWII, they had no children.
Received a Vassar College Fellowship to study at Yale University
Yale awarded her an MA in mathematics.

1931-1941

Began teaching mathematics at Vassar College as an instructor in the Department of Mathematics and she continued on the staff there until

1934

She earned a PhD mathematics at Yale University

1941

Hopper attended New York University as a Vassar Faculty Fellow

1943

Promoted to an associate professorship.
Hopper was awarded her doctorate by Yale University for a thesis New Types of Irreducibility Criteria which was supervised by Oystein Ore.

She persuaded the Naval Reserve to accept her in 1943 and she also persuaded Vassar College to grant her leave.

1944

She worked with Aiken on the Harvard Mark I computer
Mathematical Officer US Naval Bureau of Ordinance till 1946

1946

Ended her active duty with the Navy but remained a duty reservist.

1949-1967

Joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a Senior Mathematician and there she worked with John Eckert and John Mauchly on the UNIVAC computer.

1952-1964

As systems engineer at Sperry Corporation, she created an operational compiler.

1959

She was a Visiting Lecturer at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania.

1959-1966

She was a consultant and lecturer for the United States Naval Reserve up to her retirement in December 1966, by which time she had reached the rank of Commander.

1967

Recalled to active duty in the Navy.

1971

Retired from Sperry Rand at 65

1971-1978

Lecturer in Management Sciences at George Washington University

1973

Promoted to Captain Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr.,

1977

She was appointed special advisor to Commander, Naval Data Automation Command,

1983

Promoted to the rank of Commodore in a White House ceremony in December

1985

Promoted to Rear Admiral.

1986

Retired from de service at 80 years of age, she was the oldest active duty officer in the United States. She had reached the rank of Rear Admiral.

1986-1988
Senior consultant at Digital Equipment Corporation.

Honors and Awards

1928 Phi Beta Kappa
1962 Eelected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
1963 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
1964
Received Achievement Awards from the Society of Women Engineers
1968 Received Achievement Awards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
1969
Man of the Year, Data Processing Management Association
1970 Received the Harry M Goode Memorial Award, a medal and $2,000 awarded by the Computer Society
1973 Legion of merit; Distinguished Fellow, British Computer Society being the first American elected to this honour
1980 National medal of Technology, Navy Meritorious Service Medal
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 award possible by the Department of Defense.
1991 President George Bush awarded Hopper the National Medal of Technology.

In total she received 47 honorary degrees.


Related Subjects

Compilers, COBOL

   

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Footnotes & References

1 http://web.mit.edu/invent/www/inventorsA-H/hopper.html
2

main text based on an article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Hopper.html

3 picture from www.sdcs.edu/publications/sciencewomen/hopper.html converted to greyscale by thocf

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