From manual arithmometers to computers on the back of a lorry – how Norwich Union workers calculated the affairs of life

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Calculations have always been a vital part of the insurance trade, but in the days before the modern computer it came down to humans to do the maths.

The first Orion computer arriving at Norwich Union in 1964. Picture: Aviva Archive

The first Orion computer arriving at Norwich Union in 1964. Picture: Aviva Archive - Credit: Aviva Archive

To assist in this, a variety of machines and charts were used to help actuaries quantify the 'probabilities of the affairs of life'.

Among these instruments were the Colmar arithmometer and Tate's improved arithmometer – which was used by Norwich Union from 1902. Tate's machine came at a cost of £40, the equivalent of the yearly wage of a 20-year-old clerk with three years' experience in London.

When Norwich Union installed its first computer system, the Orion 1, in 1964 it was delivered on the back of a lorry and required a crane to manoeuvre it into the Surrey Street offices. Just two years later, Norwich Union forked out £380,000 for the Orion 2.

By 1991, Norwich Union had 10,500 terminals throughout the UK linked to four mainframe computers based at Bowthorpe.

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017

A look through the archives at Norwich Union.Byline: Sonya DuncanCopyright: Archant 2017 - Credit: Sonya Duncan


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