The first cell phone call was made 50 years ago today

picture of old style mobile phone with text: 50 years ago today

What went down in the first call?

On April 3rd, 1973, Motorola engineer Martin Cooper made the first-ever cell phone call while walking between 53rd and 54th in New York. He did so using an enormous two-and-a-half pound device. The call was delivered to Joel Engel, Cooper’s rival at AT&T. Cooper said to Yahoo1, years later, “You know that I’m not above rubbing things in, but … to this day, Joel doesn’t remember that call. I guess I don’t blame him.”

Certainly their conversation was nowhere near as iconic as the message left by the first telegram (“What hath God wrought”), the first telephone call (“Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you”), or the first text message (“Merry Christmas”), so can we blame Engel for forgetting?

Made from an iconic cell phone

The phone (dubbed the “shoe” phone because it was roughly the size of a shoebox) had about 35 minutes of talk time before the battery ran out. It took 10 hours to fully recharge.

It wasn’t until ten years later, in 1983, that Motorola released a smaller, 16-ounce model. This version of a cell phone cost between $3,500 to $4,000. Obviously these early cell phone models were out of the average consumer’s budget, but they still laid the groundwork for today’s version of a phone.

How the first cell phone call came to be

People were making attempts at cell phone calls long before the 1970s though.

In the 1940s, AT&T was the first to commercialize something called the Mobile Telephone Service (MTS). MTS was a communication system based on VHF radio communications, and used the same range of frequencies that television and radio broadcasts used.

MTS hardware also weighed 80 pounds, so the term mobile was used loosely.

Today’s cell phone

Today, we don’t need to prefix “cellular” or “mobile” with phone.

People don’t need to worry about lugging around clunky equipment, certainly not anything weighing 80 pounds.

We don’t just rely on voice calls, we connect over SMS and MMS messages, video calls, and more.

That’s just how much telecommunications has advanced in the last 50 years!