Mobile Phone from the 1920s

If you know the history of technology, you’ll know that a lot of things people think are new have been around for a while, at least conceptually. This is the case for the mobile phone. An old film clip from the 1922 demonstrates the idea of a mobile phone.

The silent film from the era of jazz, flappers and Prohibition was discovered by the British Pathé archive, which houses a wide variety of old newsreels. Their YouTube channel is well worth checking out.

In the film, a pair of young women are walking along the street when they decide to phone their friend. One of them wraps a piece of wire running up to an umbrella, which serves as the antenna. The other women pulls out a fairly large box and opens it, revealing the handset.

Clips like these also tend to reveal how our social and cultural, as well our technological, attitudes have changed over time. “It’s Eve’s first portable an wireless phone,” the text reads. “And won’t hubby have a time when he has to carry one!”

The woman on the other end receives the call on a contraption that looks like a piece of test equipment. After some friendly banter, she puts on a record. It seems that life in the 1920s wasn’t all that different from life today. We just have nicer things. Friends can call each other and share music wirelessly. And vinyl was just as cool then as it is now.

Once again, technologies, as a lot of other things, are older than we think. Mobile phone technology was actually commercially available in the 1950s, but was cumbersome to use because there were only a few frequencies available. Only a few select people had the phones, and if someone else in the area was talking on the phone in the area, they were usually out of luck. When the idea of dividing the coverage area into hexagonal “cells” was implemented in the 1970s and 1980s, the technology finally took off.

For another retro phone, check out the Steampunk Cell Phone and the Moshi Moshi, a retro-style handset for modern smartphones.