martin-cooper

Happy 38th birthday, mobile phones!

April 4, 2011 at 3:25 PM ET

ERIC RISBERG / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Martin Cooper, chairman and CEO of ArrayComm, holds a Motorola DynaTAC, a 1973 prototype of the first handheld cellular telephone on Market Street in San Francisco, Wednesday April 2, 2003. 30 years ago the first call was made from a handheld cellular telephone.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Handheld mobile phones have come a long way from the first call made by inventor Martin Cooper on a Manhattan street corner in 1973, when a 2.2 pound, nearly $4,000 Motorola DynaTAC handset signaled a sea change in the way people would one day communicate with each other.

Stacey / Getty Images
11th April 1972: A portable radio-telephone which can dial into telephone systems, developed by Pye Telecommunications, being demonstrated at an exhibition 'Communications Today, Tomorrow and the Future', at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, London. (Photo by Stacey/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The brick is a remnant of the past, an accessory associated with '80s decadence (Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street" and Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho," for example), replaced by the ultra-compact, much more affordable smartphones of the present day. 

But the father of cell phones has said that the evolution of his revolutionary device isn't necessarily a good thing. Last year, Cooper, 82, was quoted as saying, "Whenever you create a universal device that does all things for all people, it does not do any things well ... Our future I think is a number of specialist devices that focus on one thing that will improve our lives."

Despite that, we still think the evolution has been cool. We saw this set of nesting-doll-type phones on a blog that show an artist's eye for detail and technological advancement, as well as a bit of whimsy thrown in for good measure:

Kyle Bean /
"Evolution of the Mobile Phone"

Cooper was an engineer who worked for Motorola when he led the team that came up with the prototype handheld mobile phone.

He made the first call on April 3, 1973, while standing on Sixth Avenue in New York City, to Dr. Joel S. Engel, head of research at Bell Labs, Motorola's main mobile phone rival that was concentrating more on car tech. For the first time, person-to-person communication (vs. place to place) was a reality. Cooper has said that he drew inspiration from "Star Trek" and Captain James T. Kirk, who used his communicator to dramatically issue orders to his crew.

The Guinness World Record for "Lightest hand-held mobile phone" was set in 2008 by modu with one of its phones that weighed 1.41 ounces. Modu continued its world record dominance with "Lightest touch screen mobile (cell) phone" for its 1.94-ounce modu-t, which debuted at 2010's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona; and the modu W, which holds the record for "Lightest Wi-Fi phone" at 2.2 ounces. 

modu /
modu's teeny tiny record-setting phones

I remember my first mobile phone, which I now consider my own brick of burden, also a Motorola, the 1993 MicroTAC:

What was your first mobile phone?

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