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The cell phone made its public debut 40 years ago, which sounds like a very long time ago because it was. Ahead of the April 3rd anniversary, The New York Times Magazine takes us back to the very day in 1973 that inventor Martin Cooper first showed off his portable Motorola telephone. At 2.5 pounds it looks more like the famous Zack Morris brick than our fancy smartphone glass and aluminum slabs today. For the entree of this wonder Cooper wanted to do a "dazzling demonstration." Turns out, to do that, he just had to talk on it. "I had this thing with push-buttons on it, and I was talking into it," he told Pagan Kennedy, describing a scene outside of the Manhattan Hilton. That call went to Motorola competitor, Bell Labs, according to a CNN report. He called to rub it in. That day he also did the first ever walk and talk, calling a New York radio reporter while crossing the street, according to the Daily Mail

When he went inside the Hilton to show it off to reporters, all he had to do was prove it worked. "To prove that the phone wasn’t an elaborate fake, he handed it around," writes Kennedy. "One reporter called Australia and was astonished when her mother’s voice came out of the plastic-covered device." 

This "personal telephone," as he called it, didn't make it the consumers for another 10 years. He originally conceived as the phone as a way to assign numbers to an individual person, which is pretty much how things have worked out—for better or worse. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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