Today, November 17th, is the 60th anniversary of LEO, the world’s first business computer–built by J.Lyons & Co, a leading British food manufacturer at the time that also ran a famous chain of tea shops.
Last week, at the Science Museum in London, Google sponsored a small gathering of early LEO programmers to celebrate their accomplishments and reminisce about their pioneering work.
“Lyons management had long been keen to streamline their back-office operations. In 1947, two Lyons managers visited the U.S. to learn about the latest business processes, including whether the electronic computers they’d heard about during their wartime service, like ENIAC, might be useful. (At the time, the closer-to-home advances at Bletchley Park were still a well-kept military secret.)
They returned inspired by the possibilities and keen to build a machine of their own. After several years of development, LEO, a.k.a. Lyons Electronic Office, took on its first office job on November 17, 1951–weekly valuations for the bakery division, calculating margins on Lyon’s output of bread, cakes and pies.
LEO was such a success that Lyons set up a commercial subsidiary to sell spare time on LEO to other businesses, including the Ford Motor Company, which used it to process the payroll for the thousands of workers at its U.K. plant. Later, Lyons also built entirely new LEOs and sold them to other blue-chip companies of the era. In total, more than 70 LEO’s were built, with the last remaining in service until the 1980’s (not bad for a computer that took up an entire room!),” said Lynette Webb, Senior Manager, External Relations.
Here is short film highlighting the contribution of the team behind LEO computers:
Here is a photo gallery of Science Museum, London: