A portable phone advertisement recorded in the 1940s was recently uncovered by Open Culture. This ad shows a working portable phone system years before the iPhone or the great business phones of the ’80s.
The ad begins by trying to explain the benefits of being in touch on the go.
Focusing on selling the phones to businesses, the narrator says, “ here comes a trailer truck on the open highway miles from the nearest town” he says and continues: “ Let’s say it’s worthwhile for someone to get in touch with the drivers of this group. How can this be done?”
Later, two colleagues have a rather casual talk about picking up items from a local warehouse while demonstrating a marvel of contemporary technology. The ad continues with another example of how helpful it is to be able to talk to someone when your car breaks down.
The narrator, ” This is portable phone service. In this service, conversations are made partly by radio and partly by telephone lines.” he says and adds: “ To reach vehicles traveling on mid-urban highways, a series of transmitting and receiving stations connected to the telephone boundaries are spaced along the highway, within range of the vehicle in motion. Since the range of high frequency waves is finite with the limit of sight, the antennas are preferably placed on high ground.”
The first call made over the system was made on October 2, 1946, via a Motorola Car Radio phone. Operated by the Bell Telephone Company, the service quickly reached capacity due to the small number of radio frequencies it had. In addition, the system had a high tendency to interfere with conversations, that is, you might find yourself in a conversation with a different individual than the one you started talking to while driving on the highway.
An article on the Bell system in 1979 stated, “ Although the signal level on a channel is weak beyond 25 miles [40 kilometers], it is high enough to significantly interfere with other one-to-one-frequency portable communications within 60 to 100 miles [100 to 160 kilometers] of the ground transmitter.” he was saying.
The system existed until the 1980s before being replaced by cellular service.