Do You Know Who Grace Murray Hopper Was?
Vicki L. Sauter
Professor of Information Systems
Have you been on campus studying and just need a break, but cannot think of anything to do? Sure, you could go to the Millennium Center and get some food, or the gym and work out. Or, you could go to art galleries on campus, such as Gallery Visio or Gallery 210. But, you have done all those things before and you are looking for something new. Well, come over to the second floor of Express Scripts Hall and see Grace’s Place.
Who is Grace and what’s at her Place? Grace’s Place is the only technology museum on campus . . . and some say even in St. Louis. Think about it, can you imagine not having your phone or tablet? Do you know why they are designed as they are, and how do they relate to those old things you see on Nickelodeon?
Do you know why we call mistakes in computers “bugs?” Do you know why we “dial” a phone? Do you know what is called the “Victorian Internet?” Do you know that computer chips are “grown,” not “made?” Have you ever seen a “gingerbread house” made out of computer parts? Did you know that Barbie was once cast as a systems engineer? Can you imagine creating art to represent parts of computers? Have you looked at how advertising of computing has changed over time? Or have you ever thought of how computers have been depicted on magazine covers over time? Grace’s Place provides a blend of the history of computing and the uses of computers in business in a unique way.
Grace’s Place started out “small,” with a few display cases and some wire shelves. We now have all of those things and more. We have a fairly complete set of early PC’s (including “clones”) and Apple products (anyone want to donate an Apple I to the collection?). But, we also have old “dumb” terminals and Heathkit analog computers. These things look like they belong in an old movie! We have modems from acoustic couplers to smart device modems, examples of tapes, cards, and a variety of disks, lots of CPUs, tubes, telephones, smart devices, and more. We have old minicomputers, terminals and decwriters, and the power cord, peripheral cords, and other components from an old mainframe, We have advertising from various eras, and posters. It is a museum in spirit, even if it is only a gallery in size.
This gallery is called “Grace’s Place” in honor of Grace Murray Hopper an early pioneer in computing, who is well-recognized for her work with the COBOL programming language. Without COBOL, computers would not have entered the business environment, and it still runs a significant number of major applications worldwide today.. She also is recognized as the originator of the idea of making computer languages accessible to people solving business problems. Grace Murray Hopper believed it was critical to educate young people, especially about computers, and this exhibit would do that.
However, perhaps the best reason to name it after Grace is because she understood the importance of making things simple when explaining complex topics, and found it useful to use tangible items to help with that explanation. We have an exhibit that can explain the “Hopper nanosecond” and why it is important.. We also have a replica of Dr. Hopper’s log book (the original of which is in the Smithsonian) that included a taped down moth that she found in the computer when she claimed the computer had a “bug.” Look also at the Time cover from January 23, 1950 which shows a stylized Mark III computer that happens to have a navy cap and sleeves (that I think gives a nod to Dr. Hopper).
Over the years, though, Grace’s Place has grown in depth too. One patron had a collection of typewriters that she donated as “predecessors to word processors,” and we added a collection of “computing devices,” including slide rules, calculators, abacus and a Marchand comptometer. You can spend a lot of time in Grace’s Place (and you are all invited to do so) because there is so much squeezed into a small space.