Mobile Technology

Looking back on 40 years of the cell phone

Looking back on 40 years of th...
40 years ago the first cellular phone was invented by Martin Cooper of Motorola ... and it was almost the size of a shoe box
40 years ago the first cellular phone was invented by Martin Cooper of Motorola ... and it was almost the size of a shoe box
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Martin Cooper invented the first cell phone (Photo: Rico Shen)
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Martin Cooper invented the first cell phone (Photo: Rico Shen)
Martin Cooper and his wife and business partner Arlene Harris with their respective cell phone inventions (Photo: Business Wire)
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Martin Cooper and his wife and business partner Arlene Harris with their respective cell phone inventions (Photo: Business Wire)
Mobira Talkman, NMT450 portable car phone, 1984 (Photo: Nokia)
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Mobira Talkman, NMT450 portable car phone, 1984 (Photo: Nokia)
Mobile phone evolution, from left to right: Motorola 8900X-2, Nokia 2146 orange 5.1, Nokia 3210, Nokia 3510, Nokia 6210, Ericsson T39, HTC Typhoon
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Mobile phone evolution, from left to right: Motorola 8900X-2, Nokia 2146 orange 5.1, Nokia 3210, Nokia 3510, Nokia 6210, Ericsson T39, HTC Typhoon
A Motorola DynaTAC 8000X from 1984. This phone has an early British Telecom badge and primitive red LED display (Photo: Redrum0486)
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A Motorola DynaTAC 8000X from 1984. This phone has an early British Telecom badge and primitive red LED display (Photo: Redrum0486)
Mobira Cityman, NMT900 handportable, 1987 (Photo: Nokia)
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Mobira Cityman, NMT900 handportable, 1987 (Photo: Nokia)
A Motorola MicroTAC 9800X with Red LED display 1989
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A Motorola MicroTAC 9800X with Red LED display 1989
Motorola International 3200 compared to a 2G Nokia phone (Photo: Volker Artmann)
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Motorola International 3200 compared to a 2G Nokia phone (Photo: Volker Artmann)
Ericsson R380, is considered to be the first smartphone, released in 2000 (Photo: Ericsson)
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Ericsson R380, is considered to be the first smartphone, released in 2000 (Photo: Ericsson)
Original Blackberry (image: Shiny Things)
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Original Blackberry (image: Shiny Things)
From the Qualcomm QCP-2700 (1997) to the iPhone 4S (2011) (Photo: Ben Schumin)
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From the Qualcomm QCP-2700 (1997) to the iPhone 4S (2011) (Photo: Ben Schumin)
Selection of some the first generation analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of some the first generation analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
The original "bricks" (Image: University of Salford)
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The original "bricks" (Image: University of Salford)
First generation of analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
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First generation of analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
First generation of analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
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First generation of analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
First generation of analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
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First generation of analogue phones released during the 80's (Images: University of Salford)
Some of the early analogue phones released during the 80's and 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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Some of the early analogue phones released during the 80's and 90's (Images: University of Salford)
Some of the 1G analogue phones released during the 80's and 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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Some of the 1G analogue phones released during the 80's and 90's (Images: University of Salford)
First generation of analogue phones released during the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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First generation of analogue phones released during the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of some of the first 2G cell phones from the 90's (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
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Selection of 2G cell phones from the 1991 -2006 (Images: University of Salford)
40 years ago the first cellular phone was invented by Martin Cooper of Motorola ... and it was almost the size of a shoe box
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40 years ago the first cellular phone was invented by Martin Cooper of Motorola ... and it was almost the size of a shoe box

This year marks 40 years since the first public cellular phone call was made by Martin Cooper of Motorola. This mobile phone was a massive device by today's standards – weighing two and a half pounds (1.15 kg) and all of 10 inches long it could only be used for 20 minutes before the battery died.

Cooper was given the challenge of creating what became the prototype DynaTAC handheld cellular phone by Motorola’s at the time Vice President John Mitchell. The very first public wireless phone call was made by Cooper on April 3, 1973 while walking along Sixth Avenue in New York City. Cooper made the call directly to the office of his rival, Joel Engel, head of research at Bell Labs who was also committed to developing the first mobile phone.

Ten years later, the Motorola DynaTAC was put on the market. It had twenty large buttons, a long rubber antenna and a talk time of just thirty minutes, before needing to be recharged for 10 hours. Despite its whopping four thousand dollar price tag and immediately being nicknamed "the brick," it proved to be a resounding success and kicked-off the cellular age.

Mobira Talkman, NMT450 portable car phone, 1984 (Photo: Nokia)
Mobira Talkman, NMT450 portable car phone, 1984 (Photo: Nokia)

In 1991 the second generation (2G) cell technology hit the market, after being launched by the Finnish company Radiolinja with the famous slogan: “So that Finns can talk more.”

3G hit the market another 10 years down the track in 2001 and by 2009 these networks experienced enormous demand, giving rise to the recent 4G technologies, which promise faster internet connections and advanced multi-media applications.

The original "bricks" (Image: University of Salford)
The original "bricks" (Image: University of Salford)

Back in 2008 it was estimated that one in two humans carried a cell phone and from 1990 to 2011, global cell phone subscriptions increased from 12.4 million to over 6 billion.

Not only has usage skyrocketed, but the cell phone has undergone a dizzying number of face-lifts over the past few decades, evolving from a high-priced business accessory to an essential item for modern living and a means of stimulating economic growth and prosperity in developing countries.

Head to our gallery to follow the cellular age from brick to smartphone and see if you can spot your first cell phone.

And check out the 1980's Motorola DynaTAC promotional video ... how far we've come!

Sources: University of Salford and PCSelf

1980s Motorola DynaTAC Promotional Video

7 comments
Nicolas Zart
It's kinda scary but I remember all of them! And talk about ergonomics...
Pks29733steel
One type of cell phone that hasn't gained wide use in America (but are popular in Europe) are "Wristwatch" cell phones. I used one for years as my carrier (T Mobile) is GMS (SIM cards withyour info, number and downloads). My "watch" had 4gbs of storage for mp3's or movies. I used a wireless earbud, the cell watch would "vibrate" Android display the incomming number or the person's name if it was in the watch's phone book. Back in the '90,s it set me back $200 bucks. Now you can get the same with even more storage (gbs) for less than half the price! P. Steele
BigGoofyGuy
I remember them all too. I have the same feeling of old. I remember how expensive they were back then; not just the phone but also the service. It is amazing how low in price is both the phone and service has become and how portable and easy to use they are now.
Bill Bennett
OMG, I had the one in picture 2 though it had a shoulder strap
Dan.Magorian
Bah! Talking about the history of cell phones as if size and battery life were the critical bits, just because that what users see, is like describing submarine history by the size of the periscope: 99% is going unseen.The brilliant bit that Moto thought up was to reverse the prevailing wisdom by reducing power in cells rather than increasing it, as had been done in radio telephony for the 50 years before that. Then the massive wireless infrastructure buildout around the world starting with analog through 3 generations of digital, was the largest communications expenditure in the history of mankind by a long shot. Wikipedia has a decent article on the basics.
Mike MacDonald
Well Said !!! Dan.Magorian !!! Some cannot see the world for what it is ! I used one for nearly twenty years, and even in the end, when the system changed My Brick outperformed the super duper latest and greatest!
JungGull
Actually Cellular Radio Transceivers were new, but mobile phones were actually in use by mid to late 80's. They ran on messenger/carphone radio towers and were good for up to 25 miles. Just like carphones in their day. Of course the problem with them was battery or power usage. You think the old Motorola Cell phone "Brick" was heavy at a pound and a half, these prototypes weight in at around 3 pounds and were good for only around 2 hours talk time. I used to sell them to celebrities and wealthy businessmen along with Living Trusts and a Tax Shelter Scam known as "Beefalo Tax Shelters". The phone although it had a touch tone dial pad, it was useless as most areas were still using analog ring dialers. But it was impressive none the less, because you simply used a real live operator to connect your calls. Celebrities loved them..... since they made them stand out and nobody else had one. Even at $1500 minimum they sold well. I used mine to meet girls.... like at department store makeup counters, where I met my wife. Simply by calling her while just a 100 ft away and asking questions. It really freaked her out telling her what she was wearing as I walked up to her during the phone call! .....I guess that was the first Hotline date in it's day!!!