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Historical Events  Science
Ericsson car phone

It's mobile but not wireless. Got that?

MMDE: There was no car phone in 1910

Current: There was a car phone in 1910

There's a story many believe which surprises today's tech savvy generation. It's also a fun party trick question - what year did the first car phone appear? The answer - which itself may be only slightly inaccurate - of 1910 usually triggers an immediate response of "but there was no mobile network then!". Look again at the question - there is no mention of mobile phones or wireless technology.

The ingenious answer lies in the way the earliest telephone networks were built, which were often just wires laid along the road - not even on telephone poles. Cars too were obviously the new kids on the block in a world still dominated by horses and carts. Telecoms pioneer Lars Ericsson realised there would be a way to make calls from a car, but his method wouldn't go down too well in todays city streets. He had to stop, extend a wire from his car, and attach it to the cable. Thus, a car phone which is kind of mobile.

Evidence of this exists at the Stockholm technical museum. Actually, there is now some debate over it being Lars himself who was the first to do it, but the technique for making calls is well documented shortly after his supposed first one.

Video from 1949

The idea of you having to find the spot by the road to plug your car phone in is illustrated in this fascinating video from 1949, which also shows what is fast becoming a distant memory related to phones in general - a rotary dial: