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The world’s first ‘car phone’ from the 1920s

While not technically a “cell phone”— that technology wouldn’t be invented until the 1970s— inventors in the 1920s still liked to tinker with the technology of radio to come up with things that might change people’s lives. One of these was this walkie talkie like car phone that could send and receive messages on the go. Hot shit.

An article in the March 21, 1920 Sandusky Register in Sandusky, Ohio retold the story of a man in Philadelphia named W. W. Macfarlane who was experimenting with his own “wireless telephone.” With a chauffeur driving him as he sat in the back seat of his moving car he amazed a reporter from The Electrical Experimenter magazine by talking to Mrs. Macfarlane, who sat in their garage 500 yards down the road.

A man with a box slung over his shoulder and holding in one hand three pieces of stove pipe placed side by side on a board climbed into an automobile on East Country Road, Elkins Park, Pa.

As he settled in the machine he picked up a telephone transmitter, set on a short handle, and said:

“We are going to run down the road. Can you hear me?”

Other passengers in the automobile, all wearing telephone receivers, heard a woman’s voice answering: “Yes, perfectly. Where are you?”

By this time the machine was several hundred yards down the road and the voice in the garage was distinctly heard.

This was one of the incidents in the first demonstration of the portable wireless telephone outfit invented by W. W. Macfarlane, of Philadelphia, as described by the Electrical Experimenter.

Mrs. Macfarlane, sitting in the garage back of the Macfarlane home, was talking through the wireless telephone to her husband, seated comfortably in a moving automobile 500 yards away.

The occupants of the car were a chauffeur, a reporter and a photographer. All wore the telephone receivers and could hear everything Mrs Macfarlane was saying. The chauffeur had no other apparatus than the receiver with the usual telephone cord attached to a metal clip to his steering wheel.

Lying beside Mr. Macfarlane was the foot-square box, the only “secret” in the whole demonstration. What is in the box is the inventor’s mystery. This box weighs about twelve pounds. The other machinery used consisted only of the usual telephone transmitter and receivers and the three pieces of stove pipe standing erect on a plain piece of board. This forms the aerial of the apparatus.


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