Feeds

back to article World's first biz computer was British – and sold teacakes

Forget BlackBerry and Bill Gates: the first business computer in the world was British and was used to help sort the logistics for bakery distribution. Tea merchants, bakers and Wimpy burger founder J Lyons and Co instituted the enormous programmable computer – LEO – in its Hammersmith office to help with deliveries of …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

"Forward-thinking executive"

Those were the days...

6
0

And high speed 'laser' printing

One of the output devices worked on, but not perfected to the point of being totally free from bursting into flames, was a high speed reel-fed xerography printer. A couple of decades ahead of its time. I think they sold the rights to Rank with very significant consequences eventually.

2
0

The Ferranti Mk1 was another British computer of the same era as the LEO. It also had music generating capabilities and the BBC made some recordings of music generated in this way.

1
0
Silver badge

how Britain had once been a global ... pioneer

And as so often in out history the lead was thrown away by the wish to keep technologies secret.

It all started here, and as usual we've done nothing with it.

At least Arm are still very much alive and kicking arse.

2
0

Past tense?

We still got ARM.

Wind it in Wonka!!

2
0
Thumb Up

My grandfather used this!

I remember my grandfather telling me he used computers when he worked for Lyons. I couldn't believe they had computers back in those days. He told me about how Lyons (the tea shop people!) were leading the way in computers. I think he referred to it as a Hollerith, so that might have been a generic name for computers or calculating machines back then. (Maybe like we use "Hoover" to refer to any cleaning device that sucks.)

At the time he told me this I was using a ZX Spectrum but Mr Sinclair's work was all gobbledygook to him. Maybe because my Spectrum had a keyboard and a TV screen rather than a punch card reader and oscilloscope! I was really proud of him for using such amazing, early computers.

1
0

Hah!

Your grandfather used it ... My mother was a chief programmer on the third generation version in the 1960s (3rd generation of LEOs, that is). If you read about the history of LEO, you should find a mention of the installation at the head offices of Freeman's (mail order catalogue people). Because of that installation, I once (aged about 9) got to eat lunch with my father in the Freeman's staff canteen. (He worked for LEO and various other companies as what we'd now call IT support, both in-house and out-sourced.)

And in the late 70s, the aluminium honeycomb cabinet door panels from a decommissioned LEO 3 made awesome loft flooring for our house.

1
0

Hollerith

The inventor of the punched card,based on the (large) punched cards used on Jacquard looms and knitting machines to input the pattern, used in the US censuses (censi?). These were fed into 'tabulators' which read the data on them and printed out lists. These formed the basic input, and sometimes output, medium for tabulators and calculating tabulators, and eventually became the input medium for the electronic computers of the first few generations. My computing degree course used an ICL 1903 as a batch processor for our (COBOL) programming and job-control-language (GEORGEIII) projects fed by punched cards in 1979 - 82. If one dropped one's card deck of a few thousand cards, the sorting/reassembling was a nightmare.

IBM used these cards and originally called them Hollerith cards, but with delusions of grandeur eventually renamed them IBM cards.

0
0

IIRC when I was working at ICL Winsford, there was a skeletal LEO 9 in the test area, used to conduct programmed tests on power supplies.

0
0
Paris Hilton

Ah a real computer

Oooooo that looks sexy!

2
0
Thumb Up

Brilliant!!

Utterly brilliant! Imagine listening to how the computer works to identify faults. Love it. Reminds me of some other computer audio oddities:

- Loading a speccy game and hearing it come through the little built in speaker

- The constant clicking of the Amiga DF0:

- The lovely phase shift you'd hear on an old TV when your Atari 2600 displayed a different colour

- The 'schlip-schlip' noise of the auto card reader

<nostalgic sigh>

btw - resisted the temptation to ask if it can run MW3!

1
0

MW3?

Couldn't possibly.

Staid Brits - who else could do a film called "No sex, please we're British!" and get away with it?

At least down here we could have wild colonial boys!

JA from Melbourne Australia (NOT Florida)

0
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Silver badge

Love the hot air extraction ductwork

That takes me back to the days when I worked in a SW comms transmitting station and every transmitter had a 5kW blower in the bottom.

ah, memories of days past (and days to come as racks keep getting hotter.)

1
0
Thumb Up

Disaster recovery?

would've been an interesting challenge.

0
0
Coat

Did LEO stand for anything?

Lyons' Enormous Ordinator perhaps? :)

I used to use some old computers, including an ICT 1300 -- some joker had stuck an abacus to that one, labelled "emergency nackup"...

0
0

LEO - Another TLA

Lyons Electronic Office - what else?

(TLA - Three Letter Acronym)

1
0
Happy

LEO - Another TLA

Lyons Electronic Office - what else?

(TLA - Three Letter Acronym ) http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/icons/comment/happy_32.png

0
0
Headmaster

LEO

Leo is Latin for lion - geddit?

1
0
Thumb Up

Excuse me? Forget BlackBerry and Bill Gates ...

I don't believe that many people would consider that BlackBerry (or Bill Gates for that matter) would ever be contenders for the title of first business computer (or computer whizkid).

0
0

Video

Here's a contemporary promotional film for LEO by LEO Computers Limited, which shows it at work computing delivery loads for Lyons.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsirYCAocZk#t=31m42s

2
0

re. Did LEO stand for anything?

Lyons Electronic Office

It later became part of English Electric - LEO - Marconi which then merged with ICT (International Computers and Tabulators) to become ICL. ICL got taken over by STC and it was downhill all the wsy.

0
0

and then...

... ICL was bought by Fujitsu. Fujitsu left it alone until the losses became truly eye watering. Fujitsu then stepped in, took control, dropped the name ICL and rebranded it as Fujitsu.

Oh, and they also turned the company around making it consistently profitable.

It's now one of the "top five" IT companies worldwide.

Just shows what a little Japanese magic can do!

0
0
Anonymous Coward

japanese magic my arse

You seem to be suggesting the turn round of ICL was what made Fujistu consistently profitable and one of the top five IT companies world wide. Which would be very, very wrong. Fujitsu's always been a big and profitable player. The ICL operation has made next to no difference to that.

No Japanese magic was needed. ICL's problems were so obvious a five year old child or Paris Hilton could have fixed them. The company had too many people making and selling shit stuff nobody wanted to buy: 2900 mainframes and so on. It no longer had a captive market in the public sector which didn't have to follow a "buy British" policy any more. All of that had to go. And did. ICL was burning cash rebadging Siemens PCs (remember them?), Sun and CCI hardware (remember them?) The product line of hardware, operating systems and applications was a shambles. That had to go too. And did.

What was left was a consulting/services arm. This has its snout deep in the trough of government IT disasters: NHS spine, DWP, Benefits Agency, LIBRA, Passport Office(?), etc. Which is nice for Fujitsu's shareholders. Not so nice for UK taxpayers.

BTW the rebranding of ICL as Fujistu was a bit like rebranding Windscale as Sellafield: new name, same old toxic output.

0
0
Silver badge
Unhappy

Tea Cakes?

... and then it all went downhill

1
0

Controlled from a control panel!

Yeah, right?

Yeah, right!

0
0
Gold badge
Boffin

Possibly the first JIT stock management system as well.

If you watch the YouTube vid.

0
0

LEO - Lyons Electronic Office

If memory serves me right...

When Lyons "upgraded" to a new, better machine, the original LEO went to the Dept of Social Security (or whatever it was called that week).

In doing so it became the immediate forerunner of what was, at the time, one of the biggest IT systems in the world.

0
0
Thumb Up

LEO we have a website and a Society that is active

The LEO Computers Society is delighted that we have had some much publicity and at last this British innovation is receiving the recognition that it richly deserves. We have a website - www.leo-computers.org.uk which provides much information about LEO and the Society - which is open to anyone who worked on/with a LEO machine whether for a user or for LEO or its successor companies.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Luxuriant cooking, yeah, that's exactly what i think of when I see Nigella lawson pouting and swishing her hair back..

I may need some more dried frog pills...

1
0

Telephone bills?

Nobody has so far mentioned the LEO 326 which was used to produce telephone bills until replaced by the ICL 2900 range.

Still going strong in the late 1970s!

I think that these were the last operational LEO systems - unless someone knows better :-)

0
0
Happy

60th anniversary

When you say today is the 60th anniversary, do you mean the day on which the first plans were produced, the day on which the first test runs were made or the day on which the first actual commercial run took place?

I think we should be told.

0
0

"30,000 Watts of energy"

That would be power, surely?

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.