Happy 41st birthday, cellular phone!

martin cooper

41 years ago today, on April 3rd, 1973, Motorola’s Martin Cooper (pictured above with a Star Trek communicator — I’ll get to that in a moment) made the first public wireless phone call. He did so while doing something that we typically do today but must’ve seemed outlandish back then: while walking along New York City’s Sixth Avenue. In the spirit of competitive engineering one-upmanship, he called Joel Engel, who was had of research at Motorola rival Bell Labs.

Here’s a Discovery Channel dramatization of that historical call:

Cooper’s 1973 cellular phone was made on a device that weighed 1134 grams and had a battery life of about 20 minutes. It was a brick compared to today’s flagship phones; the Samsung Galaxy S5 weighs in at 145 grams, and the iPhone 5S is an even lighter 112 grams, and both have battery lives that reach into the double-digit hours, not minutes.

kirk on communicator

If we’re going to credit Martin Cooper, we also need to credit his inspiration: Star Trek. Here’s Cooper explaining how Captain Kirk became the muse for the technology he’d eventually invent:

If you want to watch the whole show that this clip came from, it’s on YouTube, and the show’s called — rather bombastically — How William Shatner Changed the World.

It would be another decade before cellular calling capability would be made commercially available. On October 13, 1983, the first commercial cellular phone call was made by Bob Barnett, president of the now-defunct Ameritech Mobile Communications, made a call on a cellular phone in a parking lot outside Soldier Field to Alexander Graham Bell’s grandson in Germany:

Here’s a quick recap of what the cellular revolution has brought, just in case you needed a refresher:

In conclusion: happy 41st, cellular phone!

happy birthday cellular phone

Click the photo to see its source.

this article also appears in the GSG blog