A pioneer in programming languages and technology development, Rear Adm. Grace Hopper was instrumental in bringing computer technology to Navy desktops and individuals. Hopper had an uncanny ability to predict the IT trends of the future. Many of her predictions came true during her lifetime as industry built more powerful, more compact machines.
Some of her more innovative ideas included using computers for predicting weather patterns and ocean waves, tracking the life cycle of crop eating locusts, and managing water reserves. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan awarded Hopper the prestigious National Medal of Technology at a ceremony in the White House. But Hopper considered her highest award to have been "the privilege and honor of serving very proudly in the United States Navy."
The Mark I – the impressive beast
The Mark I, programmed by pre-punched paper tape, could perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and reference to previous results. It had special subroutines for logarithms and trigonometry and used 23 decimal place numbers. Data was stored and counted mechanically using 3,000 storage wheels, 1,400 rotary dial switches and 500 miles of wire. Because of its electromagnetic relays it was considered a relay computer.
Output was displayed on an electric typewriter. The Mark I took three to five seconds to calculate a multiplication equation. It weighed five tons and contained almost 760,000 separate pieces. Lt. j.g. Grace Brewster Hopper was enchanted with its performance, until the UNIVAC I came along — operating a thousand times faster. The Navy used the Mark I until 1959.
As a child growing up in New York City, Hopper was "good with gadgets." When Hopper first saw the Mark I, she couldn't wait to start taking it apart to see how it worked. Remarking on the Mark I, Hopper said, "That was an impressive beast. She was fifty-one feet long, eight feet high and five feet deep."