Martin Cooper with first cell phone.
On April 3rd, 1973, 38 years ago, Martin Cooper made a phone call while walking down the street in New York City. At the time, he was the general manager of the company’s communications division. He had promoted the idea that phone numbers shouldn’t be tethered to a place, but to people. And they should be able to take their phones with them, anywhere they went.
When Martin Cooper made that first cell phone call, he did not make it to another cell phone. People didn’t have them yet — who could he call?
No, he made the cell phone call to a land line — specifically, to the land line of his chief competitor at Bell Labs. Motorola had beaten Bell to become the first company to make personal cell phones work. Cooper, you might say, rubbed it in. Think how the Bell Labs research engineer must have felt when he heard Cooper calling him from the noisy streets of Manhattan.
That first cell phone was so big that it was often described as resembling a shoe, or a brick. It weighed 2½ pounds. Cooper would joke to friends and colleagues that the calls from that phone would have to be short in duration: Who had the strength to hold it to an ear for very long?
Cooper, now 82 years old, still works in communications. And he carries his cell phone with him everywhere -but not the 1973 model.