Grace Hopper Gives David Letterman a Nanosecond

On 1986-10-02, Grace Murray Hopper, recently retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral, appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. Grace Hopper was a pioneer in computing, working on the relay-based Harvard Mark I, then joining the group developing the UNIVAC I. At UNIVAC, her team developed the MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC automatic programming systems, among the first programming languages. She was a technical consultant to the committee that developed the COBOL language. Later, as director of the U.S. Navy’s Programming Language Group, she participated in the standardisation of COBOL and developed validation tools to certify compilers for use by the Navy.

In the 1970s, she was one of most vocal advocates for replacing large, centralised systems in the Defense Department with networks of small computers. She retired from the Navy on 1986-08-14 after a career spanning more than 42 years and was, at the time, the oldest commissioned officer on active duty in the Navy (79 years, 8 months).

After retiring from the Navy, she joined Digital Equipment Corporation as a senior consultant, where she continued to work until her death in 1992 at age 85.

While working with the Harvard Mark II in 1947, she traced a failure to a moth stuck in a relay. She affixed the insect to the machine’s notebook with tape, logging it as “First actual case of bug being found.” This first computer bug is now in the Smithsonian Institution.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Hopper is named for her.

I had the privilege of meeting Grace Hopper when she spoke at an IEEE COMPCON conference in San Francisco in the early 1980s.


Brilliant, made my day. Wish I’d had the chance to know her.