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Did Star Trek Communicators Inspire the Invention of the Cell Phone?

TV URBAN LEGEND: The communicators on Star Trek inspired the creation of the handheld cell phone.

The late, great Leonard Nimoy often joked at Star Trek conventions about how, well "flip phones" first became a big deal in the world of cell phones, Nimoy obviously eventually got one himself and he later recalled, "You know, when I first got this thing, I didn't even connect the dots. I was sitting at a stoplight one day and all these people were pointing and laughing, and I realized the great irony of it all."

What Nimoy, of course, was referring to is the fact that the communicators the the members of the Starship Enterprise used on the original Star Trek series look pretty much exactly like handheld "flip phone" cell phones decades later...

Therefore, the communicators on Star Trek have long been noted as being the inspiration for the hand held cell phone, which was first invented in the early 1970s by Martin Cooper at Motorola, although obviously the first actual hand held cell phone was gigantic (here is Cooper holding one of the early models in a photo from a while back)...

In fact, Cooper even appeared in a documentary called How William Shatner Changed the World where he noted the inspiration...

However, in a 2015 interview, Cooper explained the truth...

Cooper explained a couple of things. First off, he noted that he had been working at Motorola for years before Star Trek came out and they had been thinking about hand held cell phones for many years before Star Trek came out. In fact, in 1967, just a year after Star Trek debuted, they released a hand held portable radio system for police department use that was sort of like a cell phone. Obviously, that project started before 1966, ya know?

Cooper said that he was just so overwhelmed by the movie that he conceded to something that he did not actually believe to be true. He also noted that, if he HAD to pick a piece of pop culture that inspired the idea, it would instead be Dick Tracy's famous wrist watch communicator...

Either way, Cooper's main message is that he was working on the technology well before Star Trek, so whether Dick Tracy should get the credit or not, it wasn't Star Trek that inspired it.

I think the fact that Motorola HAD been working on the technology since the late 1950s does suggest that Cooper is believable here, so I'm going with the legend as...

STATUS: False

Thanks to Martin Cooper for the information!

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV. Click here for more legends specifically about Christmas.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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