Forty Year Mobile Phone Anniversary: Motorola DynaTAC, History of the Mobile Phone infographic

Written by Gina Smith

April 3 marks 40 years since Motorola’s Martin Cooper made his first mobile phone call on a Motorola DynaTAC. The history of the mobile phone infographic and a 2-minute segment on the anniversary from Tech Now with Gina Smith, the vidcast, inside. Check it out. — Forty years ago — the date was April 3, 1973 — a Motorola exec made what is widely considered to be the initial call on what we’d recognize now as the first truly mobile phone. He used it to call a rival, as lore has it, at Bell Labs, from his Motorola DynaTAC. It was the first commercially-available mobile phone, costing about $4,000 U.S.

The iconic phone, weighing in at a kilogram at least, was a beast by today’s standards. Your phone probably weighs less than a tenth of that. Check out the History of the Mobile Phone infographic below and you’ll see that the technology behind that — and the tech behind the cellular network that Bell soon after debuted — dates back even further. To 1946. Also below, take a look at the 1973-era Motorola DynaTAC and the first cell-based DynaTAC c. 1983 and find out what the letters in the name stood for.

As told to reporters, Motorola exec Martin Cooper describes the call on April 3, 1973 as a pivotal moment. And the call sure surprised his rival Joel Engel at Bell. It shocked and amazed even the typically jaded New Yorkers passing by on the street corner from where he made that call.

Cooper said:

As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call … remember that in 1973, there weren’t cordless telephones or cellular phones …  I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter … probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life.”

Worth noting: The Motorola DynaTAC was featured in at least two high-profile 1980s-set movies. There’s a Motorola DynaTAC in the movie American Psycho. And no one will ever forget the scene from Wall Street, in which the character Gordon Gekko uses one. In the scene, Gordon is standing on the beach talking on a DynaTAC to Bud Fox saying, “Money never sleeps” and “this is your wake up call, pal.”

The trailer for Wall Street is available at IMdB and shows Gekko with the historic mobile phone. Here’s a shot of that, below. Legendary.


Scroll below the fold for a truly fascinating History of the Mobile Phone infographic. Scroll below also to see a shot of the  Motorola DynaTAC.

DynaTAC, by the way, was a merged acronym for Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage. Below, check out Martin Cooper re-enacting the call with the Motorola DynaTAC. Here’s the original press package from Motorola for that 1973 product, a big coup for the company.


Sure, it was heavy and bizarre-looking by any modern assessment, but it was revolutionary when you consider that, until the DynaTAC, you needed a car or an enormous briefcase to carry what vendors then considered to be unwired, mobile phones.

As you’ll see from the History of the Mobile Phone infographic below, the tech was there as early as 1946. It was just extraordinarily impractical.

The DynaTAC, by contrast, didn’t require a car, was truly portable and let you connect to the nation’s telephone network. Hence Cooper’s triumphant call to his rival at Bell, who was across the street, reports say, at the time he made the call.

The DynaTAC truly was the first cellular phone. Bell Labs set out on the idea, according to a Bell historical site, in 1947. It petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to grant it channels throughout the two decades that followed and worked with Motorola in a decades-long research and development effort.

The inventors of the cell phone, at least as listed by the USPTO, were John F. Mitchell and Martin Cooper. Cooper is pictured above. Mitchell was an  electrical engineer at Illinois Institute of Technology, a researcher who ran a group to create the first transistor-based pager. Mitchell, Cooper and the team get credit for their invention of portable cellular telephony. They received, with other researchers on the project, a  U.S. patent for it.  The patent, titled Radio Telephone System, came through in September of 1975.

So why the rivalry between  Motorola and Bell? It was, in modern terms, a friendly horse race. As Mitchell, Cooper and the team labored over the cell phone itself — a project that lasted, reportedly, from 1968 to 1983, Bell Labs worked on the system called AMPS, the network that later grew to become the first cellular network in the U.S.

As we said, the DynaTAC 8000X was priced prohibitively at about $4,000 and was the first commercially-available cell phone small enough to carry by hand. It was also the first to carry a phone call over the regular phone system. But the first true cellular call was also made on a Motorola DynaTAC — to an Ameritech Mobile exec named Bob Barnett in 1983. In turn, he placed a historic call to a grandson of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

Bell execs later lauded the DynaTAC. According to reports, a head of systems development at Bell Laboratories — that’s  Richard H. Frenkiel — acknowledged that the DynaTAC, “was a real triumph … and a great breakthrough.”

Take a look at the DynaTAC 8000x below — it came out in the early 1980s and was first to use a cellular network. And scroll below to see the amazing evolution of the tech that now dominates our lives in the History of the Mobile Phone infographic below that.


Image of the 1983-era cellular-enabled Motorola DynaTAC 8000x courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Image credit of the first commercially available mobile phone, the $4,000 Motorola DynaTAC, above: Motorola 1973 Press Release

Here’s my video on it — via my two-minute daily tech news show, Tech Now with Gina Smith.

Video: Tech Now with Gina Smith

Photo credit of Martin Cooper, at top, re-enacting his first mobile call on the Motorola DynaTAC c. 1973 courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

As promised, here’s the History of the Mobile Phone infographic. It is the money.


Image: via as originally created by Vodafone Australia.