Cell Phones of the Roaring Twenties
A 1973 Coincidence
In the March 11th 2009 episode of Life on Mars, an undercover policewoman posing as a stewardess in 1973 talks from an upper story apartment window to a male detective in the street via what looks like a military style Walkie Talkie. The hand unit was about 12 inches long by 4 inches wide and deep and featured a noticeable antenna. The lady cop had to hide hers under the covers of her bed. This looked like the immediate precursor to the model of phone invented by Dr. Martin Cooper in 1973 (see below), except that it had a leather cover for the police department. Visit Life on Mars.
I thought, "These are like cell phones, but there were none at the time." Star Trek® had been cancelled in 1969, but the animated version was showing in 1973, complete with flip open communicator resembling today's cell phones.
Alexander Graham Bell Museum, Nova Scotia
Living History Offers Answers
I recalled the Walkie Talkies used on the battlefields during World War II and the stories of radio phones and battles I had heard from current senior citizens that had fought in the European Theater during the war. This made me wonder who had invented them.
Living history is available from among a group of individuals now in their 80s and 90s in my region. I've listened to Veterans of WWII, owners of the first TV sets, curators of television and radio museums, concentration camp survivors, the children of African slaves, survivors of the Great Depression, and people that witnessed firsthand some of the works of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Frank Lloyd Wright, African American technologists on some of their staffs, and other innovators. I've listened to them, taken notes when they taught me in school, and read their contributions at the Ohio Historical Society.
If the Internet had its beginnings in WWII as a wireless signal meant to go "offline" at regular and frequent intervals to confound the enemy, then some type of precursor had to have been developed first and if Radio Phones and Walkie Talkies were popular in WWII, with child sized models given to little boys for Christmas, then there must have been a precursor for that as well. The telegraph key could have been one such precursor, but what about others? People built wireless crustal radios at the turn of the 20th Century and before. That must be a connection.
The years from Alexander Graham Bell to 1950 are filled with thoughts of the innovations of crystal radios, rock candy, the telegraphy, the automobile, the telephone, the light bulb, the aeroplane, Native American Code Talkers (Navajo, but others as well), Walkie Talkies, shortwave radio, microwave radiation, the hydrogen bomb, space flight. and AARPAnet. Just how far back did the first portable telephone emerge? (AARPAnet goes back to at least the 1940s, but that testimony has been removed form the WWW and many sources state it was invented only after the Cold War started,)
Mobile Phones Documented in Fiction Sources
Noting the descriptions in Erle Stanley Gardner's crime fiction, we see the emergence of police car phones in the early 1930s. This was based on fact. Patrol cars in Detroit, Michigan had already had two-way radios in 1921, but advanced to actual automobile telephones shortly. This concept was picked up and use din Los Angeles and other California cities when Gardner was writing his Perry Mason and Donald Lam/Berta Cool Mysteries.
Thus, cell phones can be linked back to the beginning of the 1920s, but even further back in history as well.
Morse Code Alphabet & Translation
Progress - Detroit Police Radio in 1963
A Cellphone Timeline: 1832 Start Date
1832 - Wireless communication concept was initiated and then achieved in 1835 by Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of telegraphy's Morse Code. Morse Code is no longer taught in the US Armed Services, but it should be -- The tapping out of emergency messages can save a life or a country. Morse had a mile-long telegraph cable laid over land and under water to test conductivity of both elements; when a ship ripped it out of the water section, the water itself conducted the telegraph message! Wireless was born. My class learned this in the 4th grade, never dreaming that it would lead to cell phones when we graduated from colleges and graduate schools.
1843 - Michael Faraday is famous in scientific circles. One of his contributions is his research to space conductivity of electricity. He looked at wireless-type transmission of electricity and communcation signals and spurred others to join the fray with their own work.
1865 - American Civil War Era. Dr. Mahlon Loomis was a dentist. He worked on communications through the Earth’s atmosphere via electrical conductor. Ala Benjamin Franklin, he sent two kites aloft, fitted with copper screening and wires. The wiring was connected at ground level via two different mountains about 20 miles from each other. Showing some positive results, Dr. Loomis was awarded a grant from Congress ($50,000) to continue his research.
1921 - Detoit, Michigan in the Roaring Twenties. The Police Department initiated the use of mobile two-way radios/phones that used the 2 MHz frequency in squad cars. It worked, but there was a lot of interference and crosstalk. Ferquency became jammed with too many conversations, This concept was added in California to police vehicles, and landed in the California-based mysteries of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason and Della Street.
Precursors to Real Cell Phones.
Another 40+ Years to a Good Product
1934- The FCC or Federal Communications Commission was formed by the federal government to oversee the airwaves. Two-way radios begin to become more popular with Police Department and the higher income brackets of private individuals, as well as private industry. More radio frequencies come into use. A commercial mobile telephone/radio service emerged in St. Louis in the mid-1940s, but service was mediocre. Additional frequencies were added.
1947 - AT&T marketed the first mobile car phone for highway use, but static and interference remained horrid.
1949- The FCC helped to established Radio Common Carriers (RCC) that were the direct precursor to cellular telephones as a profit industry. The first non-radio commercial car phones appeared in the US in 1956. They required operator assistance, with disappeared in the mid 1960s.
1971- AT&T pitched an idea of mobile phone coverage cells (in the air) to the FCC, who agreed, and by 1973, Motorola's Dr. Martin Cooper produced the first successful individual cell phone handset. (Note: My first cell phone in the 1990s was a boxy Motorola that was quite awkward and proced an annoying echo. I switched to Nokia.) By 2001, Bell South stopped manufacturing pay phones because "everyone has a cell phone".
See a related article about the uproar created by the homeless population owning cellphones: Homeless Cell Phones?