You probably remember well the giant car phones and early cell phones in the 1980s that looked as big a fruitcake loaf. Our tech may have gotten slimmer and sleeker, but the value of a phone has always been quite high, regardless of size. We previously published a 1970s mobile phone prototype from the UK that only had 6 minutes of battery life. While that was less than desirable, the overall concept was not unlike one from the 1940s- a handheld telephone receiver that could take calls on the go.

phones on pegboard display 1950s
Via: State Archives of Florida

This 1940s mobile phone was debuted in a film reel from Bell Telephone Labs. The technology they were using was the Mobile Telephone Service. Calls would be relayed through a special mobile operator, as all calls back then were placed through operators.

The service was a hybrid between phone technology and radio technology, operating on VHF channels. A mobile operator was required for both outgoing and incoming calls to these mobile phones.

1940s civil defence mobile telephone operated by volunteer ham specialists used the handset from a regular phone, as was common as the time. Via: Office of War Information/Library of Congress

In 1947 new applications and licenses meant that this type of technology, previously used for emergency vehicles and in storm-damaged areas as aid, could be used for commercial purposes.

The FCC originally had not made any allowances for commercial or private use of this technology. Once given the all clear, slots for licenses were still limited and varied by region. Also, the range for these mobile phones was only 25 miles maximum from a mobile dispatch center, making them great for short distance business needs, but poor for anything long distance.

Have a look at what Bell was offering in terms of mobile phones back in the late 1940s in the film reel below.

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