A look back at the first commercial cell phone call, made in Chicago 40 years ago

Both the call and the phone have Chicago ties

NBC Universal, Inc.

It’s something most of us do every day, but Elmhurst businessman David Meilhan did it before anybody else.

Back on Oct. 13, 1983, in the parking lot of Soldier Field, he made the first ever commercial cell phone call.

“It was an interesting day because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Meilhan standing outside the stadium earlier this month, recalling the event.

He and a technician were part of a race: the first team to install the phone got to make the call. David and his technician Jeff Benuzzi won.

“That phone call was transferred from my car, to that car, to Alexander Graham Bell’s granddaughter in Germany,” Meilhan recalled. “The funny thing about that is she only spoke German, it wasn’t much of a conversation other than the greetings and that’s about it,” he said.

Meilhan said he never expected the replacement for his expensive car phone would be a device that would change the world.

“Everybody in the world has a cell phone and the cell phone has gotten really smart,” Meilhan said looking at the device in his hands. “The reality is that the phone is a very minor part of the phones we use today.”

He also never expected to be a part of pop culture. Once, he said, his phone lit up while on a cruise in Europe because he was the answer to a question on Jeopardy.

The device Meilhan used that day was a Motorola Dynatac 800x, the first commercial handheld cellular phone.

It weighed just under a kilogram, stood 33 centimeters high and had enough memory to store 30 numbers. It took 10 hours to recharge and offered only 30 minutes of talk time.

At launch, the phone from Schaumburg-based Motorola cost $3,995, which would be roughly $10,000 today.

Meilhan has had approximately a dozen devices since the first old brick phone, though his favorite is the one he had in his hands.

“The next one is always the best one,” he said.

But while he has had many cell phones, Meilhan still has the same Mercedes Convertible he did 40 years ago, parking it today outside Soldier Field, right where the revolution in modern communications started.

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