The World’s First Mobile Phone?

According to an article in The Daily Mail, Philadelphia experimenter W W McFarlane invented a mobile telephone in 1920 that required three pieces of stove pipe stuck to a board as an aerial. It reportedly worked over a range of up to 500 yards.

I find it interesting that the person talking on the “telephone” in the above picture was not driving. I wish people today would not drive and talk on the phone simultaneously.

You can read more about the first mobile telephone in The Daily Mail at You can also watch a Pathé video about a similar, although apparently different, invention from 1922 at or in the video player below:


English police are now going to automatically seize the drivers mobile phone in every car accident, to see if they wee using them while driving, which is illegal in England unless hands-free. It is illegal to even pull over and have your car engine running while making a call. The engine should be switched off


Are the authors sure these were precursors to the cell phone, or to Walkie-Talkie radios? I understand the Walkie-Talkie radio came into wide use with WW II and the guys who you see in movies carrying a backpack radio, then came CB radios (remember the CB radio craze of the 1970s and 80s?), Ham radios and car radios (used to have at least a six or eight foot antenna on the car). I’m not sure if these are the same kind of radios used for ship-to-shore and airplane communications. These are the radios that emergency responders on 9/11 found that various emergency responding units couldn’t talk to each other.


In Ontario it is illegal to drive and talk or text on a cell phone. The fine is quite hefty, several hundred dollars. The term is “distracted driving” and the police are quite vigilant. For visitors, beware, the police will tell you that it is the driver’s responsibility to know the law if they are driving anywhere and they will quote “ignorance is not an acceptable excuse”. The statistics clearly show that cell phone use is involved in many accidents. I wish they’d confiscate the phone!


Before we rush to jump on the nanny state bandwagon:

Studies showing that cell phone use is dangerous tend to correlate distracted driving with increased reaction times, but they fail to account for the increased caution that drivers instinctively use to compensate.


    I don’t believe the average driver using a phone is compensating with extra caution. You would not believe the number of people I’ve encountered during my daily commute who are weaving from lane to lane, as if drunk, holding a cell phone up to their ear in one hand while gesticulating wildly with the other, or looking down at the phone in their lap instead of at the road ahead while they busily text away. These folks may think they are being extra careful, but the fact is that their conversations are consuming so much of their available brain power that they are oblivious to the road and everyone else on it.


    You sound stupid enough to use a cell phone while driving. I hope you live where I don’t!!!


In 1909, my great-grandmother’s brother William Linkroum invented and successfully used a mobile phone. This was reported in a New York Times article, April 18 1909 (“Wireless ‘Phone On Auto: Newark Man Finds Way to Summon Aid When Car Breaks Down”). In his test he called his garage from eight miles away. “The wireless ‘phone was then tried at distances of from ten to twenty miles, and Mr. Linkroum found no trouble in getting his garage on the telephone.”


Thanks for the info on William Linkroum, I was able to look up the article in the NYTime’s free archive.
Re: operating the radio from the back seat. Probably anyone wealthy enough to afford both a car and an experimental radio in those years could have afforded a full-time chauffeur &/or mechanic to take care of those tasks for him.


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