The cell phone turns 40: What would life be without it?

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(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

Remember your first cellular phone? Was it the size of a lunchbox?

For those of you into milestones, today is the 40th anniversary of the ubiquitous cell phone. The Motorola DynaTAC made its debut April 3, 1973, a creation of engineer Martin Cooper.

The first device weighed a little over 2 pounds, was 9 inches tall, relied on 30 circuit boards and took 10 hours to recharge. Cooper told UK’s  The Telegraph that “you could only talk for 20 minutes before the battery ran out…which is just as well because you would not be able to hold it up for much longer.”

Cooper’s first call was to Bell Labs rival Joel Engel: “Joel, this is Marty. I’m calling you from a cell phone, a real handheld portable cell phone.” The phone was priced at $4,000 when it went on sale in 1983.

Today the wireless phone is a mini computer. It is a fraction of its original size and weight, provides all manner of news and information, photo and video sharing, and social media interaction – and it’s way cheaper even with a data plan.

There were 6.8 billion mobile connections worldwide at the end of 2012, a figure expected to grow to 9.7 billion by the end of 2017, according to GSMA, which represents 750 mobile operators around the world. According to a study by GSMA and researchers at A.T. Kearney, the $1 trillion mobile phone industry will have more than 4 billion subscribers by 2018.

When it comes to smartphone market share, Motorola ranks No.4 behind Apple, Samsung and HTC, according to comScore. Motorola is followed by LG.

The Telegraph noted that “it’s fitting” Motorola is now owned by Google. “The company that made the first mobile phone has been consumed by the company whose services now dominate most smartphones.”

What was your first mobile phone? Could you imagine life without it?

22 comments Add your comment


April 3rd, 2013
10:24 am

Fact Check: You are using “mobile phone” interchangeably throughout the story and in the headline. I think you meant cellular phone. Mobile phones have been around much longer than 40 years although they were large and heavy and needed a car trunk to haul them around.

Photo Editor

April 3rd, 2013
10:39 am

Way to post a relevant photo AJC! You’re always so on top of things! I guess stock photos of vintage CELLULAR phones are just impossible to find.


April 3rd, 2013
10:42 am

How is Motorola ranked 3rd–behind 3 other companies?


April 3rd, 2013
10:51 am

lawdawg, I asked myself the same question.


April 3rd, 2013
11:55 am

Looks like Photo Editor needs a hug, and life. What a loser.

Class of '98

April 3rd, 2013
12:05 pm

For the 25-and-under crowd, please note that 99% of people did not have cellphones until about 1999.


April 3rd, 2013
12:15 pm

mine was an NEC P301 I got in summer of ‘92. I was 22 & at that time a 22 yr-old w/a phone was STYLIN! :D of course, I only had it b/c I had just gone to work for a carrier & even then had to pay $450 for it so I’ve always taken care of my phones & never treated them as disposable…

Chink Fart

April 3rd, 2013
12:21 pm

Believe it or not, we don’t have cell phones, still only a wired line. We’ve had them in the past, but realized we can survive without them. While I’m out hiking, driving, or shopping, the last thing I want to do is yack on a phone. If I need to make a call, any JoeBlow next to me has one and I use his. 96% of all cell phone yack in unnecessary. It wasn’t too long ago that people got along just fine without them and stopping at a phone booth if a call was needed. Most people are idiots.

(the other) Rodney

April 3rd, 2013
1:01 pm

I don’t remember the name of the phone, but it was pretty much the only one you could get in 1996 in Atlanta. It was black, about an inch and a half thick, and the battery MIGHT last 3 hours if you used it. lol

I think the company back then was called AirTouch Cellular or something – eventually Verizon bought them out.

I still have the same number I got in 1996. :) But now it’s attached to a phone with more computing power than what sent the astronauts to the moon. And I love it.


April 3rd, 2013
1:18 pm

Birthday Cell

April 3rd, 2013
1:52 pm

@(the other) I think you may be talking about an Erricson phone maybe?

I just like the article because today is my bday and it’s a nice fact.


April 3rd, 2013
2:01 pm

It was the Nokia 2110 under Bellsouth’s brand in ‘98. I think I’m on my 4th since then – 5th total.

Like Sid, I don’t jump at every new phone that comes out. I’ve kept mine until I could no longer get batteries or the service provider wouldn’t repair them any longer in the stores, or the original case they stopped using that frequency. That’s sort of their way to force you to upgrade if you manage not to break your phone in a 5 year span. Even if you can locate spare parts to older phone in the after market, the cost (especially of batteries) can far exceed the cost of a new lower end phone.

But if you live on the device, you have plenty to chose from today that’s for sure.


April 3rd, 2013
2:46 pm

Actually, the first cell phone is going to be 67 years old in June. The first handheld cell phone is turning 40 today.

Shark Punch!

April 3rd, 2013
5:14 pm

Life without a cell phone…I wouldn’t be able to roll my eyes at the guy in the next urinal who’s talking/texting while doing his business. Three times so far this week.


April 3rd, 2013
9:14 pm

I got my first cell phone in 1999. It was a prepaid phone; at first I liked it, but I threw it away after seeing it’s limitations. I now own a Metro PCS flip phone and I only pay $40 a month and I like it.

Robert Huenemann

April 4th, 2013
6:38 am

In recent months, I have seen several accounts in the press discussing Martin Cooper’s role in the development of the cell phone. I worked for Martin at Motorola Communications and Industrial Electronics (C&IE) from November 1959 to June 1960. Motorola was developing the latest in a series of two way radio products of ever smaller size. These developments were part of an evolutionary process that led eventually to the cell phone. I was fresh out of school and my contributions were of no particular significance.

But let me tell you about something I observed on a daily basis at Motorola’s plant in Chicago. Motorola C&IE had two black employees. They tended an incinerator on the opposite side of the parking lot from the plant. They were not allowed into the building. Not to take a break or eat lunch. Not to use the rest rooms. Not to warm up in the middle of Chicago’s sub zero winters. And my fellow employees would take their breaks at the second floor windows overlooking that parking lot, and they would make insulting, racist comments about the two black employees.

I went to human relations, and in the most non-confrontational way that I could muster I asked why Motorola did not employ on the basis of ability, without regard to race. And at my six month review, I was terminated.

You don’t have to take my word concerning Motorola’s employment policies. In September of 1980, Motorola agreed to pay up to $10 million in back pay to some 11,000 blacks who were denied jobs over a seven-year period and to institute a $5 million affirmative action program, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission..

I have a question for Martin Cooper. Marty, what did you ever do to challenge the blatant, toxic racial discrimination at Motorola?

Robert Gilchrist Huenemann, M.S.E.E.
120 Harbern Way
Hollister, CA 95023-9708


April 4th, 2013
10:04 am

“The cell phone turns 40: What would life be without it?”

WAY BETTER than it is now. Families would have lots of additional spending money. They would have more available time to do things with their thumbs. Their attention spans would be dramatically improved. They might actually get outside and do something besides post and text.


April 4th, 2013
10:42 am

@(the other) It was Airtouch. Great call. Hubby used to work there and I think he still has some of his old uniforms hanging in our closet (talk about holding on). Of course I get to hear all of the great stories about the evolution of the wireless industry (LOL).
While I enjoy the convenience of a cell phone, I think we need to remember it’s just a phone. Just because I have one, it doesn’t mean that I am going to have it glued to my ear 24/7. It bugs me when I see people go out to dinner and the first thing they do is pull out the phone to surf the net or watch a movie instead of engaging in an actual conversation with the person sitting next to them. Society has already lost the art of writing skills due to texting. I am afraid that we will soon lose the art of being able to hold a meaningful conversation.

Joe Blow

April 4th, 2013
10:49 am

@chin fart, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about mooching on my cell phone bill. I’m glad you brought it up, Luddite.

I’ve Gowan invoice for you.


April 4th, 2013
11:16 am

“…6.8 billion mobile connections worldwide at the end of 2012,…”

All that radiofrequency energy flying around, and through, us 24/7. I know it’s supposed to be harmless but you gotta wonder. Probably be time to start worrying once we all glow in the dark.


April 5th, 2013
8:10 am

My first hand held? I have no idea what model it was but was around 1996. I do remember in about 92-23(?) being struck by the novelty of seeing someone with a bag phone carry on a conversation in the hallway where I worked.

Like many technological advances the mobile phone has its good points and bad.

Good: Safety. Lives have been saved from faster access to emergency services. Peace of mind. Instant access to children, elderly parents, travelers. Convenience. Can conducting business from almost anywhere, access customers, order food, etc.

Bad: Safety. Distracted drivers, pedestrians, equipment operators are killed or kill. Greater time demands. What is supposed to be a time saver instead consumes even more. Immediate access has become an expectation. A few minutes of what used to be quiet time waiting in line, driving to work, waiting to board a plane, etc is now spent talking, texting, answering voicemail, email… Annoyance. People yakking, texting, etc 24/7.


April 5th, 2013
10:40 am

I got my 1st cell phone in 1999. It was a Motorola V2282 on Powertel (which shortly got gobbled by Voicestream). It was $50 and didn’t work south of Macon! Those were the days.