Grace Murray Hopper was born in New York City in 1906. In 1928, she graduated from Vassar College with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics. In 1930, Hopper attended Yale University and received a master’s degree in mathematics. She received her doctorate in mathematics and mathematical physics from Yale in 1934.
Hopper joined the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve) in December 1943. After joining, she began working at Harvard University and was part of the Bureau of Ships Computation Project. Hopper programmed Mark I, punched machine instructions onto tape and wrote the 561-page user manual.
During World War II, Hopper continued to work in the Harvard University lab. She and her peers worked on top-secret calculations to facilitate the war effort, like computing rocket trajectories, creating range tables for new anti-aircraft guns and calibrating minesweepers. They also assisted the Army and completed numerous calculations. Hopper and her colleagues also assisted John von Neumann in developing the plutonium bomb.
In 1946, Hopper became a research fellow in engineering sciences and applied physics at Harvard University. She assisted in developing Mark II and Mark III computers. Hopper is also responsible for coining computer problems as a “bug” and “debugging” a computer.
In 1946, Hopper left active service. She became a senior mathematician, later working on the first electronic numerical integrator and computer (the ENIAC) under Army contracts.
Hopper was the head programmer and worked on the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC). She continued her career in the private sector until 1966 when she retired from the Navy as a commander. However, seven months later, the Navy recalled the 60 year old to active service to assist in a six-month assignment in Southeast Asia to standardize the Navy’s multiple computer languages. After six months, this position became indefinite.
In 1977, she became special advisor to Commander, Naval Data Automation Command (NAVDAC), where she stayed until she retired. During this time, her subordinates began calling her “Amazing Grace.”
The Navy commissioned USS Hopper, a guided-missile destroyer, in her honor in 1996. At 79, she was the oldest serving officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. She retired as a rear admiral, but continued work as a senior consultant at the Digital Equipment Corporation.
Hopper passed away in 1992 and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 2016, Hopper posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her lifetime of service and impact in the computer science field.
We honor her service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Adrienne Brookstein
Editor: Cassidy Reid