First business computer LEO celebrates 60th birthday


The first ever business computer, the LEO I, is 60 years old this week.

It was actually built by British food manufacturer J. Lyons and Co, which was running some famous tea shops at the time.

Oliver Standingford and Raymond Thompson oversaw the machine's development, having visited the US in 1947 to learn about how computers might be useful.

In what was one of the first ever IT pitches to C-level execs, Standingford and Thompson produced a report for the Lyons board outlining how computers were the key to operational efficiency. They claimed that for a 100,000 investment, they would gain savings of 50,000 a year.

There are those who do not believe in the desirability of introducing anything as esoteric as electronics into business routine.

After recruiting engineer John Pinkerton, the team created the Lyons Electronic Office, which went on to carry out its first office job on 17 November 1951.

What made LEO special was its ability to do a multitude of tasks, including valuations for the bakery division of Lyons, calculating company margins output of bread, cakes and pies, as well as payroll automation.

Prior to LEO, computers were largely restricted to doing just one task. The success of the machine led Lyons to form LEO Computers in 1954 to sell the LEO II and III models to other businesses. LEO machines were used right up until 1981, with organisations including Ford and the Post Office eventual customers. Over 70 were built before production came to a close.

The Science Museum in London held a special event last week, bringing together early LEO programmers. One of the sponsors of the meet was Google, which managed to find an interesting quote from the Economist in 1984 showing how far IT has come on since then.

"There are those who do not believe in the desirability of introducing anything as esoteric as electronics into business routine," the extract read. How things have changed

See below for a video celebrating the LEO pioneers:

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.