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First Cell Phone Call Made More Than Half a Century Ago on This Day

First Cell Phone Call
Cooper holding a DynaTAC cellphone in 2007. Credit: Rico Shen, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

On April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper, a Motorola engineer made the first cell phone call in history from a sidewalk on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan with a device the size of a brick.

“I’m calling you on a cell phone, but a real cell phone, a personal, handheld, portable cell phone,” Cooper said on the phone to Joel Engel, head of AT&T-owned Bell Labs.

Even though the typical customer would not have access to cell phones for ten more years, anybody passing by Cooper on the street that day may have witnessed history being created.

Over the five decades that have passed since that initial conversation, Cooper’s large, heavy gadget has changed and been superseded by an array of speedier, slimmer phones that are now commonplace, changing entire businesses, societies, and our own personal relationships.

Although some may have been taken aback by the sheer scope and influence of cell phones, Cooper claimed that it was always likely that a large portion of humanity will eventually consider them to be necessities.

“I was not surprised that everybody has a cell phone,” Cooper, now 95, told CNN recently. “We used to tell the story then that someday when you’re born you would be assigned a phone number. If you didn’t answer the phone, you would die.”

The rise of the cell phone

After Cooper’s first call, manufacturing issues and government regulation slowed the progress of bringing the phone to the public, he said.

It would take a decade for a version of that DynaTAC (Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) phone to hit the market, for a hefty $3,900. The phone, similar to the one Gordon Gekko wielded in the movie “Wall Street,” weighed 2.5 pounds and was about a foot tall.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the modern cell phone took off, as it shrunk way down in size and became much more user-friendly. Today, 97 percent of Americans own a cell phone of some kind, according to a study by Pew Research Center.

In the years since that first call, Cooper has written a book on the transformational power of the cell phone, started companies and done speaking tours and media appearances.

An iPhone user himself (and a Samsung user before that), he loves using his Apple Watch to track his swimming activity and connect his hearing aids to his phone.

“I’m an optimist. I know there are disadvantages to the cell phone. We do have people that get addicted to it. We have people walking across the street talking on their cell phones,” Cooper told CNN.

“Overall, I think the cell phone has changed humanity for the better and that will continue in the future.”

Related: Greeks Spent 4.6 Billion Hours on Mobile Phones

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