The first call made with a cell phone is 50 years old

The first call made with a cell phone is 50 years old


50 years ago to the day, inventor Martin Cooper set out on a sidewalk on 6th Avenue in New York City with the equivalent of a plastic brick stuffed full of coins emails and dialed a phone number. The first cellular call in history had just been made. 

The now 94-year-old engineer, who worked for a tiny phone company called Motorola – which has since grown into a multinational worth around US$48 billion – dedicated his first call to none other than Joel Engel, who ran the firm of Bell Labs research, owned by AT&T at the time.

“I'm calling you with a cell phone, but a real personal, hand-held, portable cell phone,” Mr. Cooper on April 3, 1973, a bit drooling, during that historic first call.

“It was the biggest company in the world, and we were a small company from Chicago. They didn't think we were important,” recalled the engineer in an interview with CNN.

At the time, Bell Labs, which notably developed the first transistors, was looking to create the world's first cellular phone, only to be beaten by Motorola.

It took about ten years after the first cellular call for cell phones to be made available to the general public. These pioneers came in a large format, with a simple numeric keypad to dial numbers, and had nothing to do with the smartphones that have become widespread since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.

Despite everything, Mr. Cooper suspected from the beginning of his invention that it would one day spread universally.

“I'm not surprised that everyone has a cell phone. We had fun telling each other stories, like that one day we would be assigned a phone number at birth,” Mr. Cooper recalled to CNN.