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Back to the 80s: First Cell Phone Made Available for Sale Commercially in 1983 (Motorola DynaTAC 8000x) – Kickin’ it Old School

Though interviews have sort of dominated my content lately (and hopefully you have been enjoying those as much as I have), I still want to take time to recognize significant moments of DynaTAC 8000x80s pop culture history whenever possible. This month we celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the first cell phone to be offered for sale commercially. It is hard to imagine a world without cell phones now, but many of us lived a good many years before they became as commonplace as they have become.

To be exact, March 6, 1983 is the date that is documented as when the first cell phone went on sale to the public. Dr. Cooper with phoneDr. Martin Cooper actually made the first phone call over a cellular network in 1973, but it took an entire decade before the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x was sold as the first commercial handheld cellular phone in 1983. DynaTAC was an abbreviation of Dynamic Adaptive Total Area Coverage. The 8000x weighed about 1.75 pounds, stood 13 inches high, stored 30 numbers, took 10 hours to recharge for just 30 minutes of talk time or 8 hours of standby and cost $3,995 (which equates to over $9000 today with inflation). Despite the steep price and the inconvenient size that certainly didn’t fit in anybody’s pocket, there were actually waiting lists of those eager to get this revolutionary technology which was both a symbol of wealth and futurism.

Here is a video that Motorola had put out promoting their new mobile technologies…

30 years since Motorola launched the DynaTAC 8000x phone (often referred to as the “brick phone”), the number of global wireless subscribers has grown from approximately 300,000 in 1984 to over 20,000 times that number today. The world now has nearly as many cell phone subscriptions as inhabitants. The U.N. telecom agency reports there were about 6 billion subscriptions by the end of 2011 which is roughly one for 86 of every 100 people on the planet. China and India alone account for over 1 billion subscriptions each. To help put it in perspective, you have to remember that in the early-80s, most HOME phones weren’t even wireless yet. And it wasn’t until the late-90s that cell phones finally became more common.Gekko in Wall Street

As the years went by, cell phones kept decreasing in both size and price. But back in the 80s, the “brick phone” was definitely a symbol of wealth and being cutting edge. There are two pop culture examples that I always remember best that took advantage of the “brick phone” in that way. Zack MorrisThe first is when Gordon Gekko used one in the 1987 Oliver Stone film Wall Street. He is walking along the beach at sunrise holding a conversation with Bud Fox and you realize immediately that this guy is seriously rich. The second is when Zack Morris used one on Saved By the Bell. I believe the first time was in Season 1, Episode 3 (originally aired September 8, 1989), but then used in several other episodes after that especially in Season 1. To this day, some people even refer to the DynaTAC 8000x brick phone as the “Zack Morris Phone”.

The world of mobile communication has sure come a long way in the last 30 years. Most who are too young to remember what it was like before probably take their cell phone for granted. They also don’t remember what it was like to find a pay phone or use a phone booth which have suffered a slow extinction over the last 15 years or so. I’m just here to remind you that it all really started to happen in the great decade of the 80s. And that’s pretty awesome.

That’ll wrap up another issue of Kickin’ it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. There is a link to a summary of all of my 80s issues in the left hand column below the Archives and you can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin’ it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the “Like” button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says “Follow”. I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you’re out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Check this out: On the related topic of the power of our mobile phones today, I love this picture that demonstrates all of the electronic equipment that we are able to carry around in that little device in our pockets nowadays. It really puts it in a little more perspective…

You can carry all of this in your pocket now

Quote of the day: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” -Steve Jobs

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5 Comments

  1. That photo is great. Illustrates the changes perfectly well, and interestingly, our little smart phones do almost all the jobs of those other items far better than the originals, too.

    Cool post. I wrote a ton of cell phone commercials in the late eighties and early nineties. Back then most were of the “our phones and network have less static and interference than the other guys”, variety.

  2. I remember concerts in the ’80s! You lined up overnight at a Ticketmaster booth to try and get 1st row…which I frequently did.

    The concerts were incredible: David Bowie, Duran Duran, The Thompson Twins, The Cure.

    I don’t understand the people today who pay HUGE money for good, expensive tickets and then WATCH and FILM it all on a teenie weenie little iPhone screen. HELLO! Let someone in front of you, beside you, behind you FILM the whole thing and WATCH it in a couple of days on YouTube – for now – LIVE in the moment…one of your fave bands is breathing the same air as you. Put down the friggin phone.

  3. Hmmm… That first comment is from me… No idea why my name isn’t there.

  4. Reply to: surrogate
    So you’re the ghost of tBlog!
    I can remember our family business paying about $2500 for a bag phone (battery in the bag, hand piece attached with a coiled cable) in the early 90’s. I think it was a 3 watt signal and we were cautioned about keeping the ariel away from your head or it would fry your brains…………………………..
    I’m not saying anything. :-)(

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