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12 Types of Old Phones — How Old Is the First Cell Phone?

Heap of vintage telephones and receivers, they are old and outdated

12 Types of Old Phones — How Old Is the First Cell Phone?

Key Points

  • The Bell Telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, was the first ‘real’ phone that converted sound into an electric signal and back to sound, paving the way for modern phone communication.
  • The Trimline Telephone, released in 1965 by Western Electric, introduced the concept of a rotary dial between the mouthpiece and earpiece, inspiring the design of cell phones.
  • The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, released in 1983, was the first commercially viable cell phone, although it weighed 1.74 pounds and earned the nickname ‘The Brick’.

It may be hard to convince anyone born in the 21st century that phones, as we know them today, did not exist even in the late 1990s. Most phones at the time were mainly for phone calls and text messages, with a few having extra features like games, calculators, and internet connectivity. Every new feature was sensationalized and used as a selling point back then. For example, can you imagine a telecommunication company had a primetime TV commercial showcasing that its phone had a vibration ringtone? You read that right!

This article highlights the first telephone and cell phone ever made, including subsequent models that left a mark on history. Let’s get to it!

#1. Bell Telephone — First Telephone Ever Made

alexander graham bell big box telephone
The Bell Telephone was the first phone ever invented.
Company/InventorAlexander Graham Bell
Release Date1876
Release PriceN/A

The Bell Telephone is considered the first “real” phone ever invented. Previous inventions like the acoustic phone and speaking tubes are often overlooked because they did not involve converting sound into electrical signals. Instead, they mostly consisted of two “cones” connected by a string or tube.

In contrast, the Bell Telephone provided the much-needed proof that you could convert sound into an electric signal and back to sound without losing the message. Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. This invention paved the way for phone communication as we know it to date.

#2. Candlestick Telephone with a Rotary Dial

A vintage, old-fashioned, antique candlestick telephone on a wood background
The Candlestick telephone derives its name from its resemblance to a candle.
Company/InventorAlmon Strowger
Release Date1905
Release PriceN/A

Candlestick telephones were invented in the 1890s. They were more convenient than the Bell Telephone but needed an intermediary to connect the call to the recipient. However, this changed with the invention of a candlestick telephone with a rotary dial. Unlike with previous phones, you could now make a direct call to the recipient. Though Almon Strowger is credited with the invention of the candlestick telephone, several companies manufactured different variations of the phone, including Automatic Electric Co. and Western Electric.

#3. Western Electric Hand Telephone

western electric type 500 rotary dial telephone
The handheld telephone combined the mouthpiece and earpiece into one component.
Company/InventorWestern Electric
Release Date1927
Release PriceN/A

The Western Electric Hand Telephone marked the next major milestone in the telecommunication sector. It comprised a telephone that combined the mouthpiece and earpiece into one handheld component. Other components included a cradle with a dialer and a subscription box mounted on a wall. The hand telephone remained in production for several decades, during which manufacturers released improved variations of the initial design. 

#4. Trimline Telephone

trimline phone
The Trimline telephone had a rotary dial or keypad between the mouthpiece and earpiece.
Company/InventorWestern Electric
Release Date1965
Release PriceN/A

The Trimline marked the near-peak point of the evolution of telephones. For example, previous telephones had a separate cradle with a rotary dial. In contrast, the Trimline Telephone had a rotary dial between the mouthpiece and earpiece. Western Electric later released a variant of the Trimline Telephone, which included a touch-tone keypad in place of the rotary dial. The new variant inspired the concept of cell phones.

#5. Motorola DynaTAC 8000X — First Cell Phone Ever Made

Company/InventorMotorola
Release Date1983
Release Price$3,995

The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X is the oldest cell phone in history. It was first revealed to the public in 1973 when Dr. Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola, called Joel Engel, who was in charge of AT&T’s cell phone research and development program, to give him the news. Motorola was confident that they had invented the first cell phone. However, they knew that the DynaTAC 8000X still required a lot of improvements before being commercially viable. Motorola spent the next decade developing the DynaTAC 8000X to make it more efficient and user-friendly. 

The Federal Communications Commission approved the phone’s prototype in 1983. Motorola began mass-producing the phone shortly after and released it to the market. The DynaTAC 8000X had a starting price of $3,995. which is equivalent to about $12,000 now. It weighed 790 grams or 1.74 pounds. It was too heavy to carry in your trouser pocket or purse, earning it the nickname “The Brick.”

#6: Technophone Excell PC105T

Company/InventorNils Martensson
Release Date1986
Release Price$2,800

The Technophone Excell PC105T was released in 1986. The inventor, Nils Martensson, sought to develop a smaller and more portable device than the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. Leading a team of other engineers, Nils developed a compact phone comprising thin-layer circuit boards, a soft-membrane keypad, and integrated battery cells. The result was a small device that weighed about 1.15 pounds, making it the most portable cell phone of its era. In fact, many people credit it as being the first “pocketable” cell phone.

Even with its small size, the Technophone Excell PC105T offered features similar to or superior to those of previously released phones. For example, you could store up to 100 phone numbers. You could also call for up to 50 minutes on a single charge.

#7. Motorola MicroTAC 9800X

Company/InventorMotorola
Release Date1989
Release Price$2,495 to $3,495

Following the positive public response to the DynaTAC 8000X, Motorola sought to build on its success by releasing the MicroTAC 9800X. Released in 1989, the Motorola MicroTAC 9800X became the first semi-flip cell phone. The initial design had the mouthpiece as part of the flip cover. However, Motorola redesigned the phone and moved the mouthpiece from the flip cover to the phone’s base.

The MicroTAC 9800X was a significant improvement to the DynaTAC 8000X. For example, it was smaller and weighed 12.3 ounces; hence, it was very portable. It also had additional features like keypad tones and a currency calculator. Finally, you could save phone numbers using people’s names.

#8. Orbitel 901

Company/InventorOrbitel
Release Date1992
Release PriceN/A

The Orbitel 901 was released in 1992 to mixed reactions. Consumers disliked that the Orbitel 901 was bulkier than older cell phones like the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. It was large and weighed about 4.6 pounds, so you could not carry it in your pocket. Also, the Orbitel 901 came as a two-piece device, which made it less portable than The Brick.

However, after learning about its features, consumers quickly warmed to the Orbitel 901. For example, it was the first GSM cell phone with an SMS feature. This revolutionized communication, as SMSs were efficient and convenient. You needed to be close to a fax machine or computer to read a fax message or email. However, you could receive text messages on your Orbitel 901 from any location if you had network coverage.

#9. IBM Simon

IBM SImon in charging station
The IBM Simon was the first phone with a touchscreen.
Company/InventorIBM, in partnership with Mitsubishi Electric
Release Date1994
Release Price$899 to $1,099

The IBM Simon was released in 1994 as a partnership between IBM and Mitsubishi Electric. It is considered the first smartphone ever made. In fact, many believe the phrase “smart phone” was first used to describe the IBM Simon before it was later popularized by Ericsson when launching its GS88 cell phone in 1997.

The IBM Simon’s standout feature was its touchscreen, which was different from the standard keypad in other cell phones. The manufacturers marketed the IBM Simon as more of a personal digital assistant than a cell phone. Unlike other phones, which mostly received phone calls and SMS, you could receive faxes and emails on your IBM Simon. Additional features included an appointment scheduler, an electronic notepad, and a mobile game called Scramble. Given its advanced features, it was surprising that this cell phone had a starting price of between $899 and $1,099.

#10. Hagenuk MT-2000

cell phones
The MT-2000 was the first cell phone without an external antenna.
Company/InventorHagenuk
Release Date1994
Release PriceN/A

The Hagenuk MT-2000 was one of its era’s most advanced cell phones. It was manufactured by Hagenuk, a Danish telecommunications company, in 1994. The Hagenuk MT-2000 was a pioneer in several cell phone features. For example, it was the first cell phone with a built-in antenna. This was a groundbreaking design, considering all previous cell phones, including the IBM Simon, had an external antenna.

The Hagenuk MT-2000 was also among the first phones with soft keys, where you could use some buttons for more than one function. The cell phone was available in two models: one with dedicated power and volume buttons and one without. Unfortunately, it did not last long enough to penetrate the US and European markets.

#11. Motorola StarTAC

cell phones
The Motorola StarTAC was one of the best-selling cell phones of the 1990s.
Company/InventorMotorola
Release Date1996
Release Price$1,000

The Motorola StarTAC was released in 1996 and is assumed to be the first clamshell phone. This assumption is wrong, as Italtel Ltd., an Italian telecommunications company, released the Grillo telephone in 1967. Another company, NEC Corporation, released Mova N TZ-804 and TZ-1501 in 1991 and 1994, respectively. However, these pioneering flip phones had many shortcomings, which limited their commercial success. For example, the Grillo telephone had an external ringer that you had to plug into the wall, which limited its portability. Similarly, the Mova N models had battery issues and low-quality LCDs.

On the other hand, the Motorola StarTAC embodied what users wanted in a flip phone — a small handheld device that could fit in a shirt or jacket pocket. The StarTAC also weighed about 3.1 ounces, making it very portable. Finally, the Motorola StarTAC was the first cell phone with a vibration ringtone. Motorola sensationalized the vibration feature in its TV commercials. This led to the StarTAC being one of the best-selling cell phones of the 20th century, regardless of its $1,000 price tag.

#12. Nokia 9000 Communicator

cell phones
The 9000 Communicator had a QWERTY keypad and an LCD screen like a laptop.
Company/InventorNokia
Release Date1996
Release Price$800

Since the first cell phone was released in 1983, the Nokia 9000 Communicator was probably the next groundbreaking announcement in the telecommunications sector. Released in 1996, the Nokia 9000 Communicator combined the functionalities of a computer and a cell phone. Dubbed “the office in your back pocket,” the cell phone could handle basic computer tasks, including opening and editing documents and spreadsheets. It also had a pre-installed browser, which allowed users to browse the internet and send emails. 

Nokia designed the 9000 Communicator as a portable PC. For example, you could open it as a laptop, so the LCD screen was at an angle to the keypad. It also featured a QWERTY keypad, similar to a computer keyboard. Surprisingly, the Nokia 9000 Communicator had a release price of about $800. The cell phone’s only downside was its weight and size. It weighed about 14 ounces, which, though lighter than The Brick, was heavier than most cell phones released during that period.

Wrapping Up

Phones have evolved rapidly since the turn of the 21st century. We have reached heights where you can sync your phone to your smart home appliances and monitor them remotely. However, it was not always the case. The first phones ever made consisted almost entirely of circuit boards and had limited functionality. The credit goes to pioneering engineers like Alexander Graham Bell, Almon Strowger, and Nils Martensson, who paved the way for the advanced phones we enjoy today.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was the first cell phone invented?

The first cell phone was invented in 1973. It was a Motorola DynaTAC 8000X designed and built by a team of engineers led by Dr. Martin Cooper. However, Motorola did not release the phone until 1983.

Which are the oldest telephone and cell phone manufacturers in the world?

The Bell Telephone Company is the oldest telephone manufacturer in the world. AT&T later acquired it and made it one of its subsidiaries. Motorola is the oldest cell phone manufacturer. It is credited with several pioneering devices, including the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, MicroTAC 9800X, and StarTAC.

When was the first touchscreen phone released?

The first touchscreen phone was invented in 1992. It was an IBM Simon phone manufactured as a partnership between IBM and Mitsubishi Electric.

Who invented the first phone?

Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the invention of the telephone. The Bell Telephone, named after its inventor, came out in 1876.

When were flip phones first introduced?

The first flip phone was released in 1989. The Motorola MicroTAC 9800X was a semi-flip phone with a cover that reached just below the screen. Motorola released the StarTAC in 1996, a full clamshell phone.

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