First business computer LEO is 60 today

Tackled valuations and clerical work with a not-so-speedy 500Khz processor
Kerry Butters

November 17, 2011

60 years ago today, the world’s very first business computer “LEO” was built by British food manufacturer J Lyons & Co.

Following the war, executives at the company were intrigued to know whether the computers they had heard about during their service could help to streamline their business.

With this in mind, managers Oliver Standinford and Raymond Thompson visited the US in 1947 in order to find out more about them.

By the time they returned home in the UK, they were keen to try and build a machine of their own and began development. A few years later LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) was born.

The machine was launched within the company in November 1951 and took over tasks such as valuations for the bakery division as well as calculating profits for Lyons products.

LEO I had a clock speed of c and most instructions were processed in 1.5 minutes. Its first application was called ‘Bakery Divisions’ and advertisements bragged of its capabilities as a device that “does clerical work more accurately than clerks.”

“LEO was a single computer capable of handling a whole swathe of accounting and bookkeeping tasks, as well as producing daily management reports,” Lynette Webb explained on the official Google blog.

The machine was a success and by 1954, Lyons had set up subsidiary LEO Computers Ltd to sell LEO to other businesses.

These included the Ford Motor Company and Lyons went on to build and sell more than 70 LEOs to companies across the UK.

Google have recently sponsored “a small gathering of early LEO programmers to celebrate their accomplishments and reminisce about their pioneering work.”

The last remaining LEO computer to be used in the UK was still going in the early 1980s, which is pretty impressive for a computer which took up a whole room.

LEO Computers merged with the English Electric Company (EELM), before going on to be a part of International Computers Ltd (ICL), which eventually became Fujitsu.

Google have produced a short video in celebration of LEO’s 60th birthday and the pioneering team behind the machines.


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