On this day 50 years ago, Marty Cooper, an American engineer, stepped out onto New York City’s Sixth Avenue to make the first-ever cell phone call from a handheld portable cell phone, Motorola. It was a historic moment that marked the beginning of a technological revolution that has transformed the way we live, work, and communicate.
The phone that Cooper used on that day was like a brick, weighing in at 1.7 pounds (about 770 grams) and measuring 10 inches (25 centimeters) in length. It had no messaging or camera features and could only make calls. Charging the device took 10 hours, and it offered a mere 35 minutes of talk time. It cost the equivalent of around $12,000 in today’s money, making it out of reach for most people.
Despite its limitations, Cooper’s phone was a game-changer. It allowed people to make calls on the go, without being tethered to a landline. It paved the way for the development of smaller, more powerful devices that have transformed the way we communicate and interact with the world around us.
Reflecting on that first call in a recent interview, Cooper recalled how he had to get the number from his paper notebook before punching it into the phone’s keypad. He made the call to Joel Engel, his counterpart at rival company Bell Laboratories, which was then the research division of AT&T and is now part of Nokia.
“I said, ‘Hi Joel, it’s Marty Cooper … I’m calling you on a cell phone, a real cell phone. A personal, handheld, portable cell phone.’ Silence at the other end of the line,” Cooper recounted. Despite the initial confusion, the pair ended up having a “nice conversation” during that first mobile call.
Cooper noted that Bell had been pouring its efforts into developing a car-based phone instead. “We’d been trapped in our homes and offices by this copper wire for over 100 years, and now they were going to trap us in our cars,” he said.
Since that first call 50 years ago, mobile phones have come a long way. Today, we can do much more than just make calls on our phones. We can send messages, take photos and videos, surf the internet, and connect with people around the world in an instant.
Looking to the future, Cooper believes that mobile phones will continue to evolve. He suggests that before long, we’ll have the device “embedded under the skin near your ear” for even easier calls. While it remains to be seen if this prediction will come true, one thing is certain: the mobile phone will continue to play an important role in our lives for many years to come.