Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a four-decade veteran of the United States Navy and a mathematician who made pioneering contributions to computer programming, died New Year's Day at her home in Arlington, Va. She was 85 years old. At the time of her death, Hopper was employed as a senior consultant at Digital Equipment Corp. of Maynard, Mass.; until the spring of 1990, she was actively representing the company at industry forums.
Last September, Hopper was awarded the National Medal of Technology for her contributions to the development of computer programming languages. She was the first woman to receive the award as an individual. Hopper helped invent the COBOL programming language, widely used in business. In addition, her work led to the development of the first practical compiler program for modern computers.
After earning her Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale University in 1934, Hopper joined the math department of Vassar College, her alma mater. She entered the world of computers in 1943, when she joined the Navy. As a lieutenant assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, Hopper worked as a programmer on the first large-scale digital computer, the Mark I. After her discharge in 1946, Hopper remained at Harvard as a faculty member in the computation laboratory, and remained an active-duty reservist in the Navy.
In 1949, Hopper joined the Eckert-Mauchly Corp. as a mathematician. The company was started by University of Pennsylvania professors John Eckert and John Mauchly, who in 1943 completed ENIAC, the first electronic digital computer. When Hopper joined the company, Eckert and Mauchly were working on the UNIVAC I, which was based on the ENIAC. UNIVAC I, the first commercially successful digital computer, was introduced in 1951 by Remington Rand Corp., which had bought Eckert and Mauchly's company. Hopper remained there until 1967.
Although retired from the Navy reserve in 1966 because of age, Hopper was recalled within a year to full-time active duty at the Naval Data Automation Command in Washington, D.C. Hopper retired as the Navy's oldest officer on active duty in 1986.