A Walk Through Time: The History of the Cell Phone

The cell phone as we know it today is really quite a new invention. It’s almost difficult to remember life without them, but for those of us who are nearing or beyond middle age – we spent most of our lives without these devices.

The first person to communicate through wireless was probably Dr. Mahlon Loomis between 1866 and 1873. A dentist, he was clearly a forward thinker who figured out a way to transmit messages telegraphically at an 18 mile distance from the top of the Cohocton Mountain to the top of the Beorse Deer Mountain in Virginia. He was awarded a $50,000 research grant (an enormous sum of money in those days) and he used kites that had copper screens linked to the group with copper wires to use the Earth’s atmosphere as a conductor to transmit messages.

Fast forward a century and we come to Dr. Martin Cooper, who is given the title as the inventor of the first portable handset. He began working for Motorola in 1954 and was tasked with the goal of developing portable products. AT&T was racing to introduce the first cellular communication at the same time, but Mr. Cooper won the race. He created the first working prototype of a cellular phone, called the Motorola Dyna-Tac. After testing it with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington for a while, he and Motorola took the phone to New York.

Playfully showing AT&T who was boss, Cooper placed the first cell phone call in New York City to the AT&T Bell Labs. After this miraculous breakthrough, Cooper spent the next ten years figuring out how to bring this technology to market. In 1983, Motorola introduced the 16-ounce “DynaTAC” for commercial use. Unlike today’s amazing prices, each cell phone then costs $3,500.

Cell phone popularity grew exponentially during the 80s, although most of these were actually car phones. Most people still weren’t carrying cell phones in their hands; rather they had them installed in cars. There were some models that came in tote bags so that they could easily be hooked up to the car’s battery with the DC outlet, while others came in briefcases to hold the large batteries that were necessary.

By the 1990s, the second generation (2G) phones were available and could be used with mobile phone systems like GSM, TDMA and CDMA. These networks allowed for better call quality, less dropped calls, and faster network signaling. Technological advances also enabled cell phones to become hand-held, requiring much smaller batteries.

Today, of course, we have 3G and 4G cell phones that allow users to do an enormous range of functions. They offer everything from email and Internet access to streaming videos and TV, accessing WiFi and beyond.