Facts About How the First Cell Phone Was Invented

Cell phones have become such an important part of everyday life that it's easy to forget that they've only been around for a few decades. The invention of the first cell phone was the culmination of many years of research and development. Although car phones had been around since the 1970s, they relied on bulky equipment in the car trunk. In 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x became the first truly portable cellular phone available to the general public. The facts behind the development of this device play an important role in the history of communication.

Cell phones have become such an important part of everyday life that it’s easy to forget that they’ve only been around for a few decades.
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The Beginning of Cell Phones

In the mid-20th century, two-way radios were used by taxi drivers and military and police personnel, but these devices used private networks that weren't available to the public. Researchers at Bell Labs began to look into the concept of a cellular phone network that would blanket the nation. By the end of the 1970s, they had a small-scale model working, the Bell Labs Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS).

At the same time, an engineer working for Motorola name Martin Cooper was trying to create a real-life handheld communication device like the ones he had seen on the "Star Trek" television series. He and his team built a prototype that he demonstrated on the streets of New York in 1973. Cooper and his team succeeded in creating a commercial version a decade later with the DynaTAC, the first mobile device able to communicate over AMPS.

Cell Phone Timeline

Since shortly after World War II, there was a race among competing communications companies to come up with a truly portable mobile phone. Car phones became the focus of research and by the 1970s they were in limited use despite the fact they originally weighed 80 pounds and could require up to 30 minutes to put through a call. In 1972, when Martin Cooper decided that Motorola needed to develop a cellular phone, he gave a small team of eight engineers six weeks to come up with a solution.

They succeeded in large part thanks to Motorola's role in the semiconductor industry. When Cooper demonstrated the very first cell phone in New York in 1973, he used it to call Bell Labs to gloat to rival Joel Engel about his team's success in inventing the first mobile cell phone.

Shape and Size of First Cell Phone

The first DynaTAC models to go on sale were nicknamed "the brick" because of their unwieldy size and weight. These early cell phones were about 9 inches high and 5 inches deep, with a weight of 2½ pounds. They boasted a hefty price tag of almost $4,000, which is about $10,000 in today's dollars when adjusted for inflation.

Despite these drawbacks, early cell phones were adopted by wealthy professionals who saw portable phones as an alternative to a pager. The popularity of early cell phones helped ensure human-based phones would go mainstream instead of car-based phones. It's no coincidence that Martin Cooper referred to the device his team invented as a personal telephone rather than a cell phone.

Evolution of Mobile Phones and Smartphones

In the early days of cell phones, the main goal was verbal communication. Voice-based features like voicemail were gradually added, but it took some time for designers and manufacturers to realize that mobile phones could be multipurpose communication devices. Over time, features like email access and instant text messaging were added.

After the introduction of smartphones, especially the Apple iPhone, mobile phones became multimedia tools used for a wide range of tasks besides making phone calls. Thanks to higher screen resolutions, touch screens, increased memory and the introduction of photo and video capture capabilities, mobile phones have replaced many people's cameras and televisions as well as their landlines.

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