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50 years ago, the first cellphone call was made

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Fifty years ago this week, the first-ever cellphone call was made.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOTLINE BLING")

DRAKE: (Singing) You used to call me on my cellphone.

MARTÍNEZ: No, not that. Engineer Martin Cooper made that call from a New York City sidewalk and says it went something like this.

MARTIN COOPER: I called my counterpart at Bell Laboratories, a guy named Dr. Joel Engel. And I told him, Joel, I'm calling you from a real cellular telephone - a handheld unit. And I thought I could hear gnashing of teeth at the other end, but Joel was polite. And then I went on to other phone calls.

MARTÍNEZ: That's right. The first-ever cellphone call was a troll. Cooper and his team at Motorola began designing the cellphone in November of 1972. At the time, car phones were the most mobile device on the market, and only about a hundred thousand people had them.

COOPER: For years, my colleagues and I at Motorola had a dream that everyone someday would be free to talk wherever they were, would be unleashed from the copper wires that tied them to the network.

MARTÍNEZ: Thing is, their prototype was the size of a brick and weighed about 2 1/2 pounds.

COOPER: The battery life was only 20 minutes, but that was not a problem 'cause you couldn't hold that heavy thing up for more than 20 minutes.

MARTÍNEZ: Today, there are more cellphones than there are people. As of 2021, there were approximately 8.6 billion subscriptions for mobile devices. And calls from these mobile devices are being used to connect with family, friends, colleagues and, yes, the occasional troll.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLUG, SOREN SOSTROM AND YASPER'S "JUMP SHIP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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