The Cell Phone Turns 40

Motorola / Motorola

By Chris Gayomali

On April 3, 1973, a Motorola employee named Martin Cooper strolled out onto New York's Sixth Avenue with an oddly-shaped plastic brick in his hand. He pressed a few buttons, puzzled onlookers by holding the device to his ear, and placed the world's first ever cell phone call to Joel Engel, the head of research at Bell Labs. Cooper told his chief rival that, yes, Motorola had successfully engineered the world's first cell phone. History: Made.

The humble cell phone turns 40 today, having fundamentally changed the lives of six billion global phone owners and counting.

The original handset Cooper used was the Motorola DynaTAC, a big, ugly piece of telecom history that weighed 2.5 pounds, most of it battery. While the first unit wasn't certified by the FCC until 1983, Cooper is still widely credited as the godfather of the cell phone, from which prismatic microcomputers like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5 have descended.

"People are fundamentally, inherently mobile," Cooper told the Daily Beast, claiming he was inspired by Captain Kirk's gold "communicator" from Star Trek. Now 84, Cooper, lives and works in Silicon Valley, and has watched his magical communications device became smaller and exponentially more powerful every year.

So how do early DynaTACs compare to today's touchscreens? After 10 hours of charging you might be able eke out 30 minutes of talk-time. And taking inflation into account, you'd have had to pay somewhere between $4,000 to $9,000 to get your hands on one.

Just a little something to keep in mind the next time you flick on your Android or iPhone to Seamless lunch or scroll through Instagram. Celebrate the device's evolution by taking a walk down memory lane, or sneaking in a quick game of Snake. (We won't tell.) Or — God forbid — you could even use your phone to call someone.

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