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Anecdotes: LEO, the Pride of Lyons

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129743D
Original Publication Date: 1992-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 3 page(s) / 81K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Paul Bird: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Lyons Computer Services, Ltd. London England

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This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 35% of the total text.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1992 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: LEO, the Pride of Lyons

Paul Bird

Lyons Computer Services, Ltd. London England

Imagine a company running a chain of teashops in the 1950s, when food rationing was still in force, and with no electronic or electromechanical engineering experience, deciding to build an electronic calculator to improve the running of their business, and then to go on to establish a full-blown computer manufacturing company. That in essence is what happened, and the company's efforts resulted in the creation of the world's first commercial programmable computer, which was affectionately called LEO, an acronym standing for Lyons Electronic Office. The company responsible for this feat was none other than the catering concern of J. Lyons and Company, Ltd., better known for its teashops, corner houses, and Buckingham Palace garden parties.

  (Image Omitted: The efforts resulted in the world's first commercial programmable computer. The company responsible for this feat was the catering concern of J. Lyons and Company, Ltd., better known for its teashops.)

Lyons, established in 1894 in a piano factory in West London, had, over a number of years, developed highly efficient office systems to control its vast catering and manufacturing businesses. In 1939 the company was already experimenting with optical mark reading machines to automate the analysis of the thousands of waitress receipts from their food outlets.

Surprisingly, the company showed little enthusiasm for the punched card technology then developing, which it felt would, at best, offer only a temporary solution to its clerical problems. The imagination of company management was fired, however, when two executives, Thomas Thompson and Oliver Standingford, were on a study tour of the United States and observed some of the work being undertaken on the so-called "electronic brains" that had come out of the US war effort. More significantly, perhaps, they learned of von Neumann's idea of the stored- program computer.

This American idea introduced an entirely new concept into calculator design, that of a high- speed memory capable of holding some hundreds of numbers, and this led to an acceleration of research into memory systems. One avenue was associated with ultrasonics, which led to what became known as delay line memory. Such devices could be made to act as a permanent storage medium by attaching the output to the input and circulating the pulses indefinitely. Additional circuits could be added for extracting groups of pulses (numbers) when required. The delay lines holding the mercury medium, which was used for slowing the electric pulses (which were converted into sound waves to travel through the mercury), were called tanks to avoid confusion with vacuum tubes, a term used by the Americans for thermionic valves.

The...