Milestone-Proposal:Grace Hopper's Compiler and Programming Language Work, 1952-1959

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Docket #:2020-03

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

1952 -1959

Title of the proposed milestone:

A-0 Compiler and Initial Development of Automatic Programming, 1951-1952

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

During 1951-1952, Grace Hopper invented the A-0 Compiler, a series of specifications that functioned as a linker/loader. It was a pioneering achievement of automatic programming as well as a pioneering utility program for the management of subroutines. The A-0 Compiler influenced the development of arithmetic and business programming languages. This led to COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) becoming the dominant high-level language for business applications.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

During 1951-52, Grace Hopper earned a Ph.D. in both mathematics and mathematical physics from Yale. As a programmer, she invented the A-0 system, an early compiler. Grace Hopper wrote a series of specifications that functioned as a linker/loader and was called an A-0 Compiler. It was a pioneering achievement of Automatic Programming as well as a pioneering utility program for the management of subroutines. For each subroutine, programmers wrote some specs. The reason it got called a compiler was that each subroutine was given a "call word," because the subroutines were in a library, and when programmers pull stuff out of a library programmers compile things. It was designed to let people write quickly the specs for a mathematical program, one time usually a one-time execution, and get an answer fast. And the main purpose was to get programs out fast and get answers fast. Based on the A-0 compiler, Grace Hopper led teams that developed FLOW-MATIC, a computer language that led to COBOL(Common Business-Oriented Language). The A-0 Compiler influenced the development of Arithmetic and Business Programming Languages as well as COBOL and became the dominant high-level language for business, government, and military applications. These standardized, user-friendly innovations promoted wider, transformative adoption of computerization in modern life.

Dr. Grace Murray Brewster Hopper (1906-1992): A legacy of innovation and service

Grace Hopper was the recipient of more than 40 honorary degrees, and many scholarships, professorships, awards, and conferences are named in her honor. In 1972 she received Yale’s Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal. In 1991 President George Bush awarded Hopper the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest technology award; she was the first woman to be honored as an individual. In 1996 the Navy commissioned the U.S.S. Hopper, a guided missile destroyer. Kurt Beyer, author of “Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age,” suggests that Hopper achieved so much attention and even “celebrity” late in life because a

A congressman from Illinois saw an interview with

Hopper on “60 Minutes” in 1983. After seeing the interview he successfully introduced a bill to have Hopper promoted to the rank of commodore. At the age of 79, Hopper retired as a rear admiral. She was the oldest serving officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. That same year she went to work as a senior consultant in public relations at the Digital Equipment Corporation, where she worked up until a year before her death in 1992. Hopper was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. In 2016 Hopper posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in recognition of her remarkable contributions to the field of computer science.

2-17-2017 - Yale News

Karen N. Peart:  203-980-2222

The Compiler is one of the fundamental technologies in the history of computing. The invention of the compiler made it possible to write high-level computer programs, which in turn led to increased programmer productivity and reduced rates of error. This review examines the Milestone-Proposal for recognizing the invention of the compiler. “The compiler translated human-readable English keywords or commands into machine-readable instructions or code, thus creating well-defined communication between human programmers and computers. Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., IEEE Member

Grace Hopper was one of the first programmers on the MARK1. In 1952 she invented the COMPILER, which translated readable English keywords or commands into machine-readable instructions or code. Hopper’s FLOW_MATIC programming language to English commands and user-defined data names was used in the UNIVAC1 in 1957. Grace Hopper’s FLOW-MATIC compiler used in the UNIVAC1, helped shape the development of COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language) which became popular worldwide.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

IEEE USA, IEEE, IEEE Computer Society, IEEE Philadelphia Section, IEEE Women in Engineering. The compiler (computing) software translates (compiles) source code written in a high-level language into a set of machine-language instructions that can be understood and what we know as word processing.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

IEEE Philadelphia Section

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: IEEE Philadelphia Section
Senior Officer Name: Chris Dietsch, Chair

Unit: IEEE Philadelphia Section
Senior Officer Name: Emilio M. Salgueiro, Past Chair

Unit: IEEE Membership Committee
Senior Officer Name: Kathleen M. McDevitt, Chair

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: IEEE Philadelphia Milestone committee
Senior Officer Name: Kathleen M. McDevitt, Chair

Unit: IEEE Membership Committee
Senior Officer Name: Kathleen M. McDevitt, Chair

Unit: IEEE Women In Engineering Affinity Group, Philadelphia
Senior Officer Name: Bo Beth Sun, IEEE WIE Chair

Unit: IEEE Philadelphia Section
Senior Officer Name: Emilio M. Salgueiro, Past Chair

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: IEEE Philadelphia Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Chris Dietsch, Chair

IEEE Section: IEEE Philadelphia Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Emilio Salgueiro, Past Chair

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Kathleen M McDevitt (Kate)
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

200 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, GPS Latitude: 39.95239 - Longitude: -75.190489

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. University of Pennsylvania, 200 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. The A-0 compiler was invented in 1952 at 3747 Ridge Avenue, East Falls, Philadelphi. Philadelphia is an older city and so locations where an invention was made become unavailable, but an alternate location is open for placement. It is important to note, that Grace Hopper promoted COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) through many lecturers at The University of Pennsylvania, many universities across the country, and internationally. She educated her pupils at the University of Pennsylvania on the early history of computers, the compiler, COBOL, and their importance to society. Therefore, a building that fits all the requirements to be an intended site of the compiler milestone plaque exists at University of Pennsylvania, Moore Engineering school. It is in a very busy area with much-walking traffic. It is safe, with visibility, and secure.

Are the original buildings extant?

1 extant and 1 extinct - Here is a condensed history of the buildings: The building at 3747 Ridge Avenue where the A-0 compiler was invented has a cyclone fence around it and is unavailable to the public today. Current use is an interior decorating company, the owners were personally contacted but they do not want the milestone on their property. The city has a plaque on a pole outside this building as the place that invented the computer. Two poles would be clutter. Grace Hopper worked for Sperry Rand (at 1900 Alleghany Avenue) as a Director of Programming in the sixties. Information about this building came from Marvin Weinstein, who was once Chair of the Philadelphia section. He worked for Sperry Rand when Grace was Director of Programming at this address. The former Sperry Rand building at 1900 Alleghany Avenue has been replaced by a drug rehab medical center with an apartment complex to house the clients. It would be extremely difficult to get permission to locate a milestone here. Visitors would be highly disturbing to the residents. After the invention of the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) at the University of Pennsylvania, Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) was formed in 1946. By 1949, EMCC was brought out by Remington Rand and John Mauchly hired Grace M. Hopper. Many of the same people who worked on the ENIAC were hired from the Moore Engineering School of the University of Pennsylvania. They worked on the UNIVAC using the A-0 compiler, invented by Grace M. Hopper. It is important to note that COBOL, the later result of the A-0 compiler, became a standard computer language and is used to this day. It was promoted by many lecturers at the University of Pennsylvania, many universities across the country, and internationally by Grace M. Hopper. [3] [4]

Details of the plaque mounting:

The Milestone will be on a wall in the lobby of the University of Pennsylvania the Moore Engineering School. The milestone plaques come with four mounting holes in the back. There are four at the corners: 2.75 inches/6.5 cm in from the corners (as measured on the diagonal) or 1.95 inches/4.596cm in from the edges. The holes are threaded to take the studs. Please see

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

It is a secure location by security cameras and campus security guards. It is open seven days a week.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

University of Pennsylvania

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

The historical significance of the compiler is the importance of how it affected the modern computer: A compiler is a computer program that translates computer code written in mathematical programming into a computer language such as English. The compiler is primarily used for programs that translate source code from a high-level programming language to a lower-level language to create an executable program.[3] The invention of the compiler led to the Information Age and the beginning of the IT industry. Grace Hopper was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. She was a pioneer of computer programming, and she invented and coined the term "compiler." Hopper popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages. In 1957, FLOW-MATIC was used in the UNIVAC, the first commercial computer. Flow-Matic led to the development of COBOL, patented in 1960. Her work also led to the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. Hopper worked on many teams and programs, her inventions were promoted/demonstrated by many lecturers at the University of Pennsylvania, and she was often referred to as “Amazing Grace.” She retired from the Navy as Rear Admiral, and her importance is widely recognized and appreciated worldwide.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

The biggest obstacle that needed to be overcome was convincing the management and the computer department that the Compiler would work technically. The challenges of convincing the upper management audience took two years for acceptance. “I had a running compiler, and nobody would touch it… they carefully told me computers could only do arithmetic. They could not do programs” said Grace Hopper.[4]


What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

The feature that set the compiler apart from similar achievements is it was the missing link in computer programming. The compiler was an executable program that translated source code into a binary form known as object code or machine code for the first time.


Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation. Compiler/ (IEEE)

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Images of Dr. Grace M. Hopper can be found at, The two letters that are required were forwarded to Robert Colburn, Research Coordinator

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.