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First Cell Phone Call – 1973 AD

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First Cell Phone Call

Martin Cooper (b. 1928)

On April 3, 1973, Motorola employee Martin Cooper did something no one else had ever done before: he made a phone call while he walked down the street. It was the first time a call had been made on a handheld cellular telephone, and its key developer decided not to call his mom but — whom else? — his chief rival at Bell Labs to rub it in. With a journalist and photographer in tow to publicize the event, and pedestrians watching slack-jawed, those first words were: “Joel, this is Marty. I’m calling you from a cell phone, a real, handheld, portable cell phone.”

The call was made on Sixth Avenue in New York City between Fifty-Third and Fifty-Fourth Streets. Cooper’s only concern was whether the phone would work when he turned it on.

It took Cooper’s team just five months to build the prototype using existing technology from their research labs. Without the advent of large-scale integrated circuits, Motorola engineers had to jam thousands of inductors, resistors, capacitors, and ceramic filters in a device that would be lightweight enough to carry. The prototype weighed 2.5 pounds, stood 11 inches tall, and cost $1 million in today’s dollars to produce.

Up until then, the industry (with AT&T in the lead) had focused on placing mobile technology in the car, not in people’s hands. Cooper and his team believed that AT&T’s vision was too limited. As Cooper explained to the BBC years later in a retrospective interview, he wanted to create “something that would represent an individual, so you could assign a number not to a place, not to a desk, not to a home, but to a person.”

It would take 10 years for the prototype to be released as a commercial product, due in large part to the lack of existing towers and infrastructure that had to be built. Called the DynaTAC 8000x, it took 10 hours to charge for 30 minutes of talk time. This is the same phone Michael Douglas famously used in the movie Wall Street to talk to his desk-bound protégé while he watched the sunrise from the beach. It cost $3,995, which, adjusted for inflation, would be around $9,000 today.”

SEE ALSO: Star Trek Premieres (1966), iPhone (2007)

Martin Cooper with the first portable handset. Cooper made the world’s first mobile phone call on April 3, 1973, to his rival Joel Engel at Bell Labs.

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