Today is the Anniversary of the First Cell Phone Call

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

It's incredible to think that, years ago, people used their cell phones to make actual phone calls and talk to other people. Paving the way for all this was Martin Cooper, who, on April 3, 1973, made the first public cell phone call in history. Cooper, now credited as being the "father of the cell phone," was working as the vice president and director of systems operations for Motorola; he invited the press to witness the call, which was made on a crowded Manhattan sidewalk.

The recipient of this very first phone call? None other than Cooper's chief rival in the race to make the cell phone, Bell Labs' Joel Engel. That's right, the first public cell phone call was an "in-your-face" touchdown dance. In an interview with the BBC from 2003, Cooper says he told Engel, "Joel, I'm calling you from a 'real' cellular telephone. A portable handheld telephone."

Here's a dramatization of that moment (with slightly different wording):

"And to this day, Joel does not remember that phone call. And if I were he, I'm not sure I would either." Damn, Marty, ice cold.

Up until that point, the only mobile phones available were cumbersome and had to be installed in cars.

The New York Times report of the cell phone's debut includes this lovely description of the device:

Basically, Dyna T-A-C looks like a modernized version of a military handie-talkie set. The system operates as a complex computerized network that enables a caller with a hand set to dial any live telephone number ... The system also works in the opposite direction.

The report offers some predictions as well, some more accurate than others:

[John F. Mitchell, vice president and general manager of Motorola's communications division] predicted that the nation's regular telephone companies would probably buy the system for their own use.


[Martin] Cooper predicted that through use of advanced circuitry and new technologies the size of the hand sets could be reduced even further to the point where they might fit in a breast pocket.


Motorola estimated there would be a monthly service charge of "roughly $60 to $100, or the same as for mobile phones."

Nail on the head.

[Mitchell] estimated that with volume usage the monthly rates might be reduced to the $10 to $12-a-month level within 20 years.

Whoops. Maybe within the next 20 years?