The Surprising Role of the Car in the Creation of the Cell Phone

  • April 19, 2022
  • Ashvir Toor

You probably think of your cell phone as something brand new – a completely new creation unique to the 21st century. But did you know that without the car, we might never have invented cell phones?

While the smartphone as it exists today is unlike anything else that came before it, the concept of a phone on-the-go has been around since people started doing two things: driving and talking on the phone. In fact, the first mobile phone is over 100 years old!

In 1910, Lars Ericsson (the founder of telecommunications giant Ericsson) and his wife, Hilda, built a version of a phone that they could bring along on their road trips to make calls from the road. It required them to pull over and connect long cables and rods to existing phone lines, but once everything was hooked up properly, they could reach a local operator and make their phone calls. It was a creative start!

Across the pond in America, the first semblance of a car phone appeared in the 1920s, when W. W. MacFarlane, from Philadelphia, invented a device that was similar to a two-way radio in that it transmitted signals and users would speak to each other through a phone. MacFarlane tested this device out for the locals by driving down the street and letting everyone listen to his conversation with his wife back at home in the garage.

Car phones – and mobile technology in general – became more realistic in the 1940s and 1950s when cellular towers were built and enabled car phones to work. The wealthy were able to partake in car phones first, and the big screen introduced them to the world. In the 1954 movie Sabrina, Humphrey Bogart’s businessman lead character works in the back of his limo thanks to a car phone. 

In the 1970s, German and British radio manufacturers created more reliable car phones that lived like a built-in computer in a car. While they worked, they could only be operated while the car was on because they relied on the car’s power and battery to maintain the phone’s cellular signal.

Despite being a bit unwieldy and at times hard to hear, the demand for built-in car phones grew through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. By the late 1990s, however, cellular connectivity and mobile technology had improved so much that when Nokia introduced their first cell phone meant for the middle class, the car phone’s days were numbered, and the last one was sold in 2008.

Today, we can’t imagine not being able to make a call from anywhere at any time. Without the car – which gave more people the opportunity to travel than ever before – we might never have invented the mobile phone. Staying connected is important to everyone’s health and safety – especially on the road. Don’t forget, with LoJack, you are always connected and protected!