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The Evolution of Cell Phones

By Christian Roemer

With the ubiquity of cell phones these days, it’s hard to believe that things weren’t always how they are now. People consider their cell phone an extension of their very bodies, and people really freak out if they have to go without one for even a little bit. The APA even has a mental disorder about fear of losing your phone: nomophobia.

What I’m trying to say is that we’re living in strange times. Just a short 20 years ago, everyone had pagers--which were like cell phones but worse, kids played outside, and actual cell phones were briefcase-sized bags that you kept in your car. Heck, they weren’t even called cell phones back then. They were called car phones.


If you’re curious about the evolution of cell phones because you’re one of those young generation Z kids that have never known a non-technological life, this is the perfect article for you. If you’re older like me, this will be a fun blast from the past.

1908 - A couple of dudes file a patent for cell phone technology, but they never bring anything to market and they’re sued for fraud. Whether they actually contributed to cell phones is hard to say, but the proof in the patent says that they at least had the original concept down.

1918 - Germany invents wireless communication between military trains.

1940s - The US military starts to make use of mobile telephony called hand-held radio transceivers

1946 - The first car phones are invented with service provided by AT&T in St. Louis, MO. Phones were built into cars, had very limited coverage, and were only available in select urban locations.

1965 - A Bulgarian company invents the mobile wire system that allows more people to use more phones on a single “line.” That enables greater coverage and usage on specific bandwidths.

1969 - Penn Central Railways installed pay telephones in their trains that allowed people to make calls while on the move.

1973 - Motorola invents the first hand-held mobile phone device. Previously, all cell-like phones were installed in cars. Hilariously, the first ever phone call from a hand-held cell phone went from Martin Cooper to his rival, Dr. Joel S. Engel. I can only assume that the conversation consisted primarily of, “Nanny nanny boo boo!” I actually can’t even comprehend the amount of shade implied by this one phone call. What delicious flex.

1979 - The first actual analog cell phone service rolls out in Tokyo, quickly followed by North America and the Nordic countries.

1981 - The world’s first generation cell phone service, 1G, rolls out in North America, then the rest of the world. Cell phones were the size of bricks, had terrible battery life, and they could only make phone calls.

1990s - The world’s second generation cell phone service, 2G rolls out across the world. Two different types of service, GSM and CDMA vied for supremacy.

1992 - The first ever text message is sent.

1997 - Nokia releases the 6110, what I consider to be the first real cell phone. This particular phone was compact, had awesome battery life, boasted Snake and other games, and was practically indestructible. At the same time, Motorola released the world’s first flip phone, which is also pretty cool.

2001 - The first 3G system is rolled out in Japan. It’s faster, more reliable, and could communicate data along with voice.

2002 - The world’s first camera phone was invented. Whoever came up with the idea of combining a phone and camera is basically a genius. We take it for granted these days, but having a camera around at all times has made the world a much more interesting place.

2004 - My favorite cell phone ever was invented: the Motorola RAZR. This thing was sleek, had an awesome camera, big color screen, and it looked so futuristic. I’d never have given up my RAZR if I had a say.

2007 - Apple releases the first ever iPhone. People might hate on Apple, but the iPhone changed the way that we look at phones for forever.

2009 - 4G hits the market. This new cell service format allowed for media streaming like videos, audio, and better texting.


The cell phone has drastically changed the way that people communicate over the years, but they aren't the only thing that has evolved quite quickly since their start. If you're like us, you haven't always had that camera phone around to capture your memories. Send your old photos and  home videos to Southtree. Our team of professionals will digitize them so you can finally enjoy them on that fancy smart phone!

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