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35th Anniversary of the first public cell phone call

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April 3, 2008

Martin Cooper and his wife and business partner Arlene Harris with their respective cell p...

Martin Cooper and his wife and business partner Arlene Harris with their respective cell phone inventions Photo: Business Wire

April 4, 2008 With around half the world's population expected to be carrying a mobile phone by the end of this year, it's hard to believe that its just 35 years since the first ever public cell phone call was made. Yesterday marked the anniversary of the historical call made on the streets of New York by portable cell phone inventor Martin Cooper, then general manager of Motorola’s Communications Systems Division.

Not surprisingly the device used was a far-cry from the slim-line handsets of today - making even the "bricks" of the late 80's and early 90's seem ultra-portable. Weighing in at two and a half pounds and 10 inches long, the phone could be used for only 20 minutes before the battery died.

“In a time when there were no cordless or cellular phones, normally blasé New Yorkers gaped at the sight of me making a phone call while strolling down Lexington Avenue,” said Cooper, who used the first call to ring counterpart Joel Engel at rival AT&T’s Bell Labs (now that's rubbing it in).

Over the next decade five models of the phone were built with the size trimmed to 16 oz by the time the first commercial cell phone service began in 1983.

Cooper is still paying an active role in the mobile phone industry. In partnership with his wife, Arlene Harris Cooper created the Jitterbug - a phone designed purely for talking and listening, by-passing the bells and whistles like cameras and web browsers contained in many modern phones that many consumers simply don't use.

Ms. Harris was recently inducted into RCR’s Wireless Hall of Fame – the first female innovator to receive that distinction.

A BBC interview with Martin Cooper can be found here.

About the Author
Noel McKeegan After a misspent youth at law school, Noel began to dabble in tech research, writing and things with wheels that go fast. This bus dropped him at the door of a freshly sprouted Gizmag.com in 2002. He has been Gizmag's Editor-in-Chief since 2007.   All articles by Noel McKeegan
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