REAR ADM. GRACE M. HOPPER DIES; INNOVATOR IN COMPUTERS
REAR ADM. GRACE M. HOPPER DIES; INNOVATOR IN COMPUTERS WAS 85
John Markoff, _The New York Times_, 1/3/92, C16
Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, retired, a mathematician and pioneer in data
processing who was a legendary figure among both computer scientists and
industry executives, died New Year's Day at her home in Arlington, Va.
Admiral Hopper, who was 85 years old, had been in ill health recently, family
members said, and died in her sleep, apparently of natural causes.
She had been in the navy, as an active-duty officer or reservist, since World
War II, and received a special Presidential appointment to the rank of rear
admiral in 1983. In 1982, with the retirement of Adm. Hyman J. Rickover,
Admiral Hopper became the oldest officer on active duty in the armed service,
which she remained until retiring herself in 1986.
Admiral Hopper made several vital contributions to the development of modern
computing systems, including helping invent the COBOL programming language,
which is still in widespread use in business.
AWARD FROM PRESIDENT
In September, President George Bush awarded her the National Medal of
Technology "for her pioneering accomplishments in the development of computer
programming languages that simplified computer technology and opened the door
to a significantly larger universe of users." She was the first woman to
receive the award individually.
At the time of her death she was a senior consultant to the Digital Equipment
Corporation. She joined Digital in 1986, shortly after her retirement from
"Grace took every opportunity to challenge people young and old to consider
the infinite possibilities of technology," said Kenneth H. Olsen, Digital
Admiral Hopper was born Grace Brewster Murray on Dec. 9, 1906, in New York
City. After receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale, she taught math at
Vassar College, her alma mater, where she later became an associate professor.
She was divorced in 1945 but kept her married name.
In 1949 she worked as a mathematician at the Eckert-Mauchly Corporation. The
company was formed by Dr. John W. Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, who in 1946
had developed one of the world's first electronic computers, ENIAC, at the
University of Pennsylvania. Eckert-Mauchly was then building the Univac I,
the first commercial electronic computer. The company was later bought by the
Remington Rand Corporation.
Earlier, in 1943, Dr. Hopper had joined the Navy. As a lieutenant assigned to
the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, she worked
as a programmer on a calculating device called the Mark I, a precursor to
RECALLED BY THE NAVY
Leaving the Navy in 1946, she remained at Harvard as a faculty member in the
computation laboratory. She continued to work on early Navy computers and
maintained her Naval career as a reservist. Although retired from the Navy
reserve in 1966, then-commander Hopper was recalled within a year to active
duty to oversee a program to standardize the Navy's computer programs and
In 1962, she was elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and
Electronic Engineers. In 1969, the Data Processing Management Association
selected her as its first computer sciences "Man of the Year."
Her work led to the first practical compiler for modern computers. A compiler
is a program that translates instructions written by a human programmer into
more specific codes that can be directly read by a computer.
Among her many contributions, Admiral Hopper is known for coining the term
"bug," which is widely used to refer to mysterious computer failures.
The first bug actually was -- a moth, as Admiral Hopper told the story. It
was discovered one August night at Harvard in 1945 inside the Mark I.
"Things were going badly, there was something wrong in one of the circuits of
the long, glass-enclosed computer," she is quoted as saying. "Finally,
someone located the trouble spot and, using ordinary tweezers, removed the
problem, a two-inch moth. From then on, when anything went wrong with a
computer, we said it had bugs in it."
A self-described "boat-rocker," she once said in a speech that she hoped to
live until the year 2000. "I have two reasons," she said. "The first is that
the party on Dec. 31, 1999, will be a New Year's Eve party to end all New
Year's Eve parties. The second is that I want to point back to the early days
of computers and say to all the doubters, 'See? We told you the computer
could do all that.'"
She is survived by a brother, Dr. Roger F. Murray II of New Hampshire, and a
sister, Mary Murray Westcote of New Jersey.