ONCE upon a time there was a thing called a ledger. For those of you who missed this essential part of business history, a ledger was where every detail of business was kept. Creditors ledgers, debtor’s ledgers, all written by hand neatly in ink, calculations done on the side. And they were in pounds, shillings and pence. Twenty shillings to the pound, twelve pennies to the shilling. Try calculating that without a calculator. I know there may be book-keepers and accountants bursting into tears in at this moment with nostalgia for the good old days. Eh, cop on! Enter – Percy Ludgate.
Who was Percy Ludgate? Ok, maybe you all know but it came as a shock to me to hear that he invented a computer comparable (better even) than Babbage’s in the late 19th century, and more importantly, he was Irish. Not only Irish, but from dear old Skibbereen!
Percy got a job in Dublin as an accountant and of course, as with all great ideas, he was solving a problem: the onerous and tedious job of counting and entering ledgers. The Double Entry system. Balance the books! In his spare time he developed a machine that could multiply which was revolutionary indeed, as Babbage’s could only add. It measured two feet by two feet, so essentially was the very first laptop, although you might have to be a prop forward to call it that.
And in his honour we now have The Ludgate Hub, the first rural digital hub in Ireland. This is an extremely ambitious project developed by local business people to draw the techies to West Cork. It has the vision to create 500 jobs and turnover €34m over the next five years. Admirable indeed, and a fine apt use of Percy Ludgate’s name. This week it announced a €300,000 Seed Capital fund for those locating there.
So, while you sit and tap your keyboards and muck around with your word and excel documents, spare a thought for Percy Ludgate, a leader of the digital revolution who helped change all our lives for the better. He died 94 years ago.
Owen O’Brien is a lecturer and entrepreneur in residence at The School of Economics at UCC. www.owenobrien.com. Ludgate Hub: www.ludgate.ie