50 Years Ago Today, the First Cellphone Call Was Made

Motorola engineer Martin Cooper remembers it well, but his rival doesn't
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2023 7:45 PM CDT

It was 50 years ago today that Motorola engineer Martin Cooper made history with the first handheld cellphone call in public. Cooper, standing on a Manhattan street, made the call to one of his main rivals, Joel Engel at AT&T research arm Bell Labs, CNN reports. "I'm calling you on a cellphone, but a real cellphone, a personal, handheld, portable cellphone," Cooper told Engel. "You could tell I was not averse to rubbing his nose in this thing. He was polite to me," Cooper, now 94, tells CNN. "To this day, Joel does not remember that phone call, and I guess I don’t blame him."

Cooper tells the BBC that his rivals at Bell Labs had been working on car-based phones. "Could you believe that?" he says. "So we had 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!" Ben Wood, who runs the online Mobile Phone Museum, says the commercial version of the prototype Cooper used that day, the Motorola Dynatac 8000X, was not released until 1984, when it was sold for the equivalent of $11,700 in today's money.

Cooper says he doesn't much like the "suboptimal" cellphone designs of 2023, but he believes that the "cellphone revolution" is in its infancy and that the devices will continue to change the world. "I know there are disadvantages to the cellphone. We do have people that get addicted to it. We have people walking across the street talking on their cellphones," he tells CNN. "Overall, I think the cellphone has changed humanity for the better and that will continue in the future." (More cellphones stories.)

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