Marty makes a call... Science

The first call on a cell phone…

U.S. engineer Martin Cooper holds the Motorola DynaTAC phone, the world's first commercial handheld cellular phone, and his current mobile phone during a news conference in Oviedo, northern Spain, October 20, 2009.   | Photo Credit: ELOY ALONSO

Having looked at the many firsts of Mariner 10 last week , we will be continuing with tales of debuts this time as well... but about those that are closer to home. In fact, we will be looking at the first portable handset and the first ever cell phone call that was made… things that are part of our everyday lives now!

Martin ‘Marty’ Cooper, regarded by many as the father of cellular phone, graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After a stint with the U.S. Navy, Marty joined Motorola in 1954 and earned his master’s from IIT in 1957.

It is important to recall that the idea of a mobile phone was already afloat during this time. American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) had introduced them in 1946, but users often had to wait owing to limited availability of channels. Also, the fact that these devices consumed a large amount of power implied that they were mostly run by car batteries. As a result, they served as car phones rather than truly portable phones.

So when the race for making truly mobile devices heated up in the late 1960s, Motorola didn’t want to be left behind AT&T Bell Laboratories. An urgent project to develop a cell phone was put in place and Marty was placed at the helm of things. Marty believed that cellular phones should be personal devices and numbers should be assigned “not to a place, not to a desk, not to a home - but to a person.”

Working alongside designer Rudy Krolopp, Marty used Motorola’s existing electronic patents to produce their new gadget. The result was the DynaTAC (Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage) phone, which was 23 cm tall, weighed 1.1 kg and could be used for 35 minutes before requiring a 10 hour recharge.

During a press conference with reporters, Marty made a call to Joel Engel, his rival and research chief at Bell Labs, from the streets of New York City on April 3, 1973. After gloating about the fact that he was calling from a portable cellular phone, Marty went on to make numerous other calls, including one to a New York radio reporter while crossing the street.

Guess the cost!

A decade of development followed before the device could be taken to the consumers. When the DynaTAC 8000x was released to the public in 1983, it was notably toned down in weight. Despite having a price point of over $3500 (in today’s value, about 2.31 lakh rupees) , the phone was a commercial success due to the novelty and the convenience that it offered.

It wasn’t before 1990s that cell phones truly became a global phenomenon and the past few decades has seen progress at breakneck speeds, bringing us to a point where our lives are inexplicably intertwined with our cellular devices.

As for Marty, he went on to start a number of related companies and win a slew of awards as well, having placed on record the first ever call that was made from a cell phone.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 1:46:10 AM |

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