Chicago was home to the first-ever U.S.-based trial run of mobile phones on a mass scale, as this short video unearthed by the AT&T Tech Channel explains. Mobile phones were available at the time in other major U.S. cities, but in New York, for example, only about a dozen or so people could be on the mobile network at the same time. Everyone else would have to wait for a channel to clear up before making a call. Not so in the Windy City, where the AT&T-owned Bell Systems was testing a public cellular network as early as 1978.
"For more than a year, some 1,300 customers of Illinois Bell Telephone Company have taken part in a trial of the Bell Systems' advanced mobile phone service, or AMPS for short," according to the video, which then goes on to profile several of those early users. "It makes us the fastest people on the street," one business owner says. "With the new system and its transmission and reception, it's just like my calling across the hall here to another office," another adds. "With the old system, it was like speaking through an overseas telephone."
The video, embedded below, also explains how the new technology worked, with the phone's signal jumping from tower to tower as the user traveled by in a car.
The FCC didn't approve commercial cell phones until four years later, in 1982, and by 1984 there were about 25,000 users around the country. Sixteen years later, in 2000, that number had exploded to 100 million.
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H/T Mental Floss.