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Thread: Cell phone from 1969

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    Cell phone from 1969

    The venerable "cell phone from 1928" thread being closed, I offer this photo for your entertainment. It's a detail from a picture of the crowd watching the Apollo 11 launch, which I happened on while reading Taschen's Moonfire.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    The slim black rectangle he's holding to his ear is quite striking (at least to me). I want to say it's a transistor radio (I think I might be able to detect an unextended telescopic aerial at its upper rear corner), but it seems amazingly compact compared to my memories of these devices at that time.

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    It looks pretty exactly like transistor radios I remember from that time; I had a red one that was very similar. As you said, I can see the unextended aerial in the corner.

    The length and width look fine; the photo makes the depth look a little thin, but I think that's because of the angle and the black phone against his dark hair.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I want to say it's a transistor radio (I think I might be able to detect an unextended telescopic aerial at its upper rear corner), but it seems amazingly compact compared to my memories of these devices at that time.
    That was my thought as well (both the transistor radio and the surprising size). The other possibility is a cassette recorder?

    As for the size, there seems to be some odd distortion in the picture that might affect that. The camera looks oddly compressed, for example.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    As for the size, there seems to be some odd distortion in the picture that might affect that. The camera looks oddly compressed, for example.
    Oh, good point. I suspect this photo was taken with a long telephoto lens and that this compressed the depth of field.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    The other possibility is a cassette recorder?
    Too small for that, I'm sure, on second thoughts.Also, I don't think they had built-in mics at that time, so someone recording their thoughts would have had it on a shoulder strap with a mic plugged in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    It looks pretty exactly like transistor radios I remember from that time; I had a red one that was very similar. As you said, I can see the unextended aerial in the corner.

    The length and width look fine; the photo makes the depth look a little thin, but I think that's because of the angle and the black phone against his dark hair.
    It was the slimness of the thing that surprised me - the radios I recall were a couple of centimetres deep.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    Oh, good point. I suspect this photo was taken with a long telephoto lens and that this compressed the depth of field.
    The photo is definitely not a telephoto - looking at the whole image makes it clearly it's a wide-angle view taken from close in, and these two guys are maybe two-thirds of the way from centre to edge of frame (as reproduced by Taschen). The crowd behind them looks slightly compressed laterally, but not hugely so, and with verticals preserved (no barrel distortion on that axis, in other words) which is consistent with the fact the device appears rectangular rather than a parallelogram.
    Sorry I can't offer the whole image - it's a huge gatefold that's impossible to scan and which would be tricky to photograph in any useful sort of way.

    Grant Hutchison
    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2019-Jan-22 at 03:54 PM.
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    Maybe he was a time traveler from the future wanting to see history it close up....not sure who he's talking too....long distance? ;-)

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    It’s not a big enough misconception for the “Title Misinterpretations” threads, but given the timeframe, I clicked thinking this would be about some kind of prototype or over-ambitious patent from that year.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
    Every mission makes our dreams reality
    And our destiny begins with you and me
    Through all space and time, the achievement of mankind
    As we sail the sea of discovery, on heroes’ wings we fly!

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    Here's my best shot at showing the full gatefold.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Grant Hutchison
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    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    It’s not a big enough misconception for the “Title Misinterpretations” threads, but given the timeframe, I clicked thinking this would be about some kind of prototype or over-ambitious patent from that year.
    Since the first cell phone call was made in 1973, I have to imagine the work on it was possibly going on as early as 1969, though I couldn't quickly google patents and their dates.

    But I have zero belief that this picture is showing anything other than a transistor radio.

    PS - Here is the Motorola patent. It was apparently filed in 1973, so they did their little PR demo at the time of filing. Still, there had to have been some work done before then.
    Last edited by Swift; 2019-Jan-22 at 04:39 PM. Reason: added PS
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    The man in the photo would have to hold the transistor radio to his ear because the noise of the Saturn V liftoff would have reached the crowd about now, and it would be deafening.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Here's my best shot at showing the full gatefold.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Grant Hutchison
    Most likely a wide angle lens that will distort the depth recognition of the object. A transistor radio description would fit.

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    https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/genera...table_rad.html

    Link to an ad from 1960 showing a General Electric "vest-pocket" transistor radio. Same size as a small cell phone. "Depth of field" issue not required. Old radios could be pretty thin. I had several, having been born in 1955.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    The man in the photo would have to hold the transistor radio to his ear because the noise of the Saturn V liftoff would have reached the crowd about now, and it would be deafening.
    Since no-one has their hands over their ears, I'm thinking not deafening at that point. We don't know how far out that crowd was standing, so we can't use their line of sight to estimate how high the Saturn V was, or what the noise level was.
    He's perhaps getting more noise from the excited people round about.

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    The other thing I found interesting was that the aerial isn't extended. I recall these devices as having about as good reception as my dental fillings when the aerial was down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spacedude View Post
    Maybe he was a time traveler from the future wanting to see history it close up....not sure who he's talking too....long distance? ;-)
    Yeah, that was the bizarre thesis of the "1928 cell phone" thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/genera...table_rad.html

    Link to an ad from 1960 showing a General Electric "vest-pocket" transistor radio. Same size as a small cell phone. "Depth of field" issue not required. Old radios could be pretty thin. I had several, having been born in 1955.
    That must be a giant hand!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    Since the first cell phone call was made in 1973, I have to imagine the work on it was possibly going on as early as 1969, though I couldn't quickly google patents and their dates.

    But I have zero belief that this picture is showing anything other than a transistor radio.

    PS - Here is the Motorola patent. It was apparently filed in 1973, so they did their little PR demo at the time of filing. Still, there had to have been some work done before then.
    Oh, I think it’s a radio, too. I’m just saying what I expected based on the title before I clicked.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
    Every mission makes our dreams reality
    And our destiny begins with you and me
    Through all space and time, the achievement of mankind
    As we sail the sea of discovery, on heroes’ wings we fly!

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Yeah, that was the bizarre thesis of the "1928 cell phone" thread.

    Grant Hutchison
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger E. Moore View Post
    https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/genera...table_rad.html

    Link to an ad from 1960 showing a General Electric "vest-pocket" transistor radio. Same size as a small cell phone. "Depth of field" issue not required. Old radios could be pretty thin. I had several, having been born in 1955.
    As I said, the striking issue for me is the apparent slimness, not the size - the object in your link has roughly the proportions I would expect for its time. Slim slabs were not a common design in the 60s, though it's seen as a desirable shape now (and some of us of a certain age still can't help but think "flimsy").

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    About the time of the first cell phone call, in 1973, I took a semiconductor fabrication class and we got a field trip to Bell Labs in Allentown, PA. We saw them pulling ingots that were 1" in diameter. Their device yield was 7%.

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    Quote Originally Posted by billslugg View Post
    About the time of the first cell phone call, in 1973, I took a semiconductor fabrication class and we got a field trip to Bell Labs in Allentown, PA. We saw them pulling ingots that were 1" in diameter. Their device yield was 7%.
    300 mm diameter (12") silicon is grown now, and people have grown 400 mm (though a lot of the early work was done with Ge, not Si, so that is what you might have seen). I suspect device yield is now more like 90% or more.
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    I remember first sight of a multiband radio from hong kong 1964 , it was even smaller than the picture and most transistor radios of the time but my friend had a wartime miniature valve , i think short and long wave, receiver which was even smaller. I forget how the batteries were arranged. Radio phones , not mobiles, existed then. The first mobile was in Finland in about 1983. I remember a market prediction that the market was for inshore fishing and travelling salesmen, ha!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Strange
    The other possibility is a cassette recorder?
    Too small for that, I'm sure, on second thoughts.Also, I don't think they had built-in mics at that time, so someone recording their thoughts would have had it on a shoulder strap with a mic plugged in.
    I'm confident one of those posts is right, but I actually favor your first post since there were smaller cassette recorders even in '69. [I wouldn't have them as 8-track had to be better than that wimpy cassette medium.]
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    The other thing I found interesting was that the aerial isn't extended. I recall these devices as having about as good reception as my dental fillings when the aerial was down.
    If he's listening to AM then there's no point in extending the FM antenna.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nowhere Man View Post
    If he's listening to AM then there's no point in extending the FM antenna.
    Ah-ha. Thanks. For some reason I was misremembering the majority of portables being FM-only at that time, but I seem to have got that completely backwards. I guess I just listened to a lot of FM, and have a vague feeling I couldn't listen to AM. Now I reflect on it, I can't think why that would have been the case.

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    Last edited by grant hutchison; 2019-Jan-23 at 01:41 AM.
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    Yup. FM was not all that common then, and mostly played classical music.
    The shot appears to be a little after the launch, based on everyone looking up. The sound may have dissipated by then; or the guy was waiting to be able to hear again.
    I remember transistor radios from the late 1950's (I think) that were smaller in both length and width, but not depth, than my current smartphone. The limiting factor on depth may actually have been the speaker and the 9V battery, both of which run about .6 inches or 15mm thick. The thing is, it's hard to tell from the photo how thick the article is that the guy is holding.

    Fun fact: Because of the snap terminals, you can fasten multiple 9V batteries together in series and get as many DC volts as you like. For a short time.

    Annoying fact: The Wikipedia article on them doesn't seem to list the size.
    Never mind, found it:
    The PP3 size battery is 48.5 mm × 26.5 mm × 17.5 mm or 1.91 in × 1.04 in × 0.69 in. Both terminals are at one end and their centers are 0.5 inches (12.7 mm) apart.
    Slightly bigger than I thought. I should have just gone and measured one.
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    Absent Without Leave

    Nonsense. The device is obviously a tricorder, and the holder is an enlissted man AWOL from the Enterprise.

    In a more serious vein, the man might still be alive. Anybody recognize him?
    Last edited by John Mendenhall; 2019-Jan-23 at 10:05 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Mendenhall View Post
    Nonsense. The device is obviously a tricorder, and the holder is an enlissted man AWOL from the Enterprise.

    In a more serious vein, the man might stilo be alive. Anybody recognize him?
    Nah.. that's my dad in the picture. He eventually owned up about all that time he had spent in his workshop he had been secretly working on a time machine. He admitted that the cell phone to his ear was an error because he had not yet discovered how he could transmit radio signals through time with no service carrier provider either . He was just trying to call my mum to let her know he wouldn't be long and he would be home in time for dinner.

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    I don't think we particularly need to seek a reason for him holding the radio to his ear - if memory serves, people did did that a lot. In part it was considered polite to keep the volume down and not bother other people (remember that?), and compact headphones weren't generally available; and in part because it made the sound from the compact speaker seem a little less jangly and tinny.

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