A Computer Called LEO: Lyons Tea Shops and the World's First Office Computer by Georgina Ferry
This is the eccentric story of one of the most bizarre marriages in the history of British business: the invention of the world's first office computer and the Lyons tea shop. The Lyons tea shops were one of the great British institutions, providing a cup of tea and a penny bun through the depression, the war, austerity and on into the 1960s and 1970s. Yet Lyons also has a more surprising claim to history. In the 1930s John Simmons, a young graduate in charge of the clerks' offices that totalled all the bills issued by the "Nippies" and kept track of the costs of all the tea, cakes and other goods distributed to the nation's cafes and shops, became obsessed by the new ideas of scientific management. He had a dream: to build a machine that would automate the millions of tedious transactions and process them in as little time as possible. In this text, Georgina Ferry recounts the story of Simmons' quest for the first office computer - the Lyons Electronic Office. It would take 20 years and involve some of the most brilliant young minds in Britain. Interwoven with the story of the building of LEO is the story of early computing itself from the Difference Engine of Charles Babbage to the codecracking computers of Bletchley Park and the instantly obsolescent ENIAC, developed in the US. It is also the story of the post-war British computer business; why did it lose the initiative? Why did America succeed while British design was often superior? Georgina Ferry's account of a forgotten triumph in British history is a corrective and a celebration of one of the least likely marriages in business history: the Lyons tea shop and the cutting edge of computer science.