Today marks the 40th anniversary of the first cell phone call. Martin Cooper, an engineer with Motorola, made the call from 54th Street in Manhattan with a 9” tall, 2.5 pound monstrosity he called a DynaTAC (DYNamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage). The device looked much like a walkie-talkie; originally a military invention which served as inspiration for Cooper and fellow engineer Rudy Krolopp. Calls could only last for 35 minutes, and the phone took 10 hours to recharge. It also cost roughly $4,000; an astronomical price even by today’s standards.
Perhaps the phone’s cost and cumbersome nature prevented it from getting into the hands of anyone outside the most affluent homes. Cell phone usage in the U.S. didn’t reach 1 million until 1990. It wasn’t until after the start of the 21st century that cell phones became more commonplace. I got my first cell phone in October 2001.
For younger folks, it’s difficult to imagine life without cell phones. Then again, it’s difficult for me to imagine life without air conditioning. Cell phones have to rank as one of the greatest modern inventions. They’ve saved countless lives and allowed people to communicate more rapidly than any time in human history. They’ve also proved to be one of the greatest annoyances – especially if you get cut off by someone driving and talking on their cell phone at the same time! Ah – the price for convenience.
2 responses to “Hold That Call!”
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. See the attached PDF file for details.
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
Thanks for your unique insight. America’s work history is replete with such stories. Has Martin Cooper ever talked about such incidents at Motorola publicly?