Erna Schneider Hoover
Among the first patents issued for computer software was Dr. Erna Schneider Hoover’s patent for the Feedback Control Monitor for Stored Program Data Processing System that she created in 1967.
A graduate of Wellesley College and Yale, where she earned a doctorate in philosophy and the foundations of mathematics, Hoover began working at Bell Labs in 1954. The change to the system architecture Hoover designed was in response to the overloaded hardwired telephone system that required use of mechanical switches. When the system was overly taxed with too many incoming calls the electronic relays would “freeze up” causing a disruption of service.
Dr. Hoover’s solution to this problem used a computerized telephone switching system to help monitor and prioritize the demands for use. By allowing the computer to give priority to the processes involved with input and output of the switch instead of less important tasks like billing and record keeping, a call center’s acceptance rate was adjusted automatically. This adjustment, known as a stored program control led to a great reduction in the overloading problem that had been occurring. The principles of Hoover’s invention are still used today in telecommunications equipment.
After receiving her patent she was promoted to supervisor of a technical department at Bell Labs – the first woman to hold this position there. Her department worked on artificial intelligence methods, transactional software to support large telephone networks, and large databases as well as various high-level applications such as research radar control programs of the Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile System.
While at Bell Labs she was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey where she was credited with increasing the number of women on the faculty and helping to build the college into a respected place of higher education. At the time of her retirement 1987, Hoover was the head of the operations at Bell Labs’ support department. Dr. Hoover received the Wellesley College alumni achievement award in 1990 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2008.
Written by Angela Goad