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Your Cell Phone Was Born in the U.S. Military

Your Cell Phone Was Born in the U.S. Military

While watching a YouTube video a while back, the speaker was talking to a group of college students about the military and all the components in their Cell Phones that were created by or for the United States Military.

Our U.S. Military was involved and integral in the creation of the Smartphone through research and development, by necessity, by financial support, or through the purchase of the technologies. From Artificial Intelligence, Global Positioning Systems, Integrated Circuits, and the Internet to Lithium-Ion Batteries and Multi-Touch Screens. We have certainly come a long way.

The U.S. Military wasn’t the only military involved, but we were by far a leader in the development.  In our previous article, “How Will The Internet of Things Affect You? IoT,” we also discussed Moore’s Law, Nanotechnology, Semiconductors, Artificial Intelligence, and some of the electronic components that are incorporated into today’s Smartphones. 

A Little History

Recomended Reading: Best Emergency Preparedness Communication Systems (7 Must Own Devices) and Stocking the Essentials for Emergency Preparedness.

The first telephone was invented in 1870 by Alexander Graham Bell. Although commercial Cellular Systems and Cell Phones have been in use only since the 1970s, some early forms of Cellular Phone technology have been used since early in the twentieth century, starting in World War I. During World War II, Motorola produced mobile telephones for the U.S. Army. These mobile telephones were the precursor to the first cellular telephones. Radio Phones were similarly used in the Korean War and the Vietnam War and ever since.

During World War I, this Portable Wireless Phone System above, issued for use by the German infantry, required the operator to strap components to his chest and back. He also needed the assistance of additional soldiers to be a “walking phone booth” and to help with the system.

Original Cellular Network

The original Cellular Phone network can be traced to a team of engineers back in 1947 led by Bell Laboratories Douglas Ring. Douglas did the design for a cellular phone network, and without this, “Cell Phones” couldn’t communicate the way they do today.  

It wasn’t until April 1973 that a team of Motorola engineers led by Martin Cooper created the world’s first functioning cellular mobile phone. Cell Phones have only become low cost with lots of features and have been used worldwide really since 1995.

Before That and According to Wikipedia:

“The Second World War made military use of radiotelephone links. Hand-held radio transceivers have been available since the 1940s. Mobile telephones for automobiles became available from some telephone companies in the 1940s. Early devices were bulky, consumed large amounts of power, and the networks supported only a few simultaneous conversations. Modern cellular networks allow automatic and pervasive use of mobile phones for voice and data communications.”

Mobile Hand-Held Radios “Walkie Talkies”

These were the first portable AM radios made by the U.S. Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories in Fort Monmouth, NJ.

Considered the first Walkie-Talkie, these weighed approximately 25 pounds (Quite a bit bigger than your iPhone XR) and had a 5-mile range. They were widely used for infantry communication during World War II.

Motorola SCR-300 FM Radio Transceiver

Pictured below is the next innovation during World War II; it was the Motorola SCR-300 FM Radio Transceiver (A device that can both transmit and receive communications). Motorola made nearly 50,000 of these portable radios. They weighed anywhere from 32 to 38 pounds (And gave your legs some exercise if you were the person who got to carry it all day) with a 3-mile range, and it replaced the SCR-194 and 195.

Two-Way Radios

The SCR-536 pictured below is often considered the first of modern handheld, self-contained, Two-Way Radios.

Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, which became Motorola’s foresighted engineer, Donald Mitchel continued to improve the design. He and his team developed a two-way AM radio that a single person could carry and operate with one hand. It was battery-powered and weighed just 5 pounds. The U.S. Army Signal Corps soon utilized this lightweight device for the paratrooper and, by early 1941, awarded Galvin Manufacturing Corporation a contract for an experimental quantity.

Cellular Phone Milestones

  • On June 17th, 1946, Bell Labs mobile service in St. Louis, Missouri, and AT&T begins offering mobile telephone service.
  • 1947 – AT&T develops the concept of cellular telephony and invents the Transistor.
  • USSR developed the system of Automobile Mobile “Altai” phone system in 1963.
  • In 1970 Amos E. Joel, Jr., a Bell Labs engineer, invented a “three-sided trunk circuit” to aid in the “call handoff” process from one cell to another.
  • 0G – One of the first successful 0G public commercial mobile phone networks was the ARP network in Finland, launched in 1971, and services like MTS.
  • The first handheld “Brick” Cellular Phone was introduced by Motorola’s Dr. Martin Cooper. He made the first call on April 3rd, 1973.
  • 1G – First-generation analog cellular network in Japan 1979
  • 2G – Second-generation digital cellular networks 1991
  • In 1993, IBM Simon was introduced.
  • 3G – Third-generation broadband data services commercial viability 2002
  • The BlackBerry 6210 was launched in 2003
  • The first iPhone was released in 2007
  • 4G – Fourth-generation native-IP networks employing an all-IP network 2009
  • 5G – Worldwide commercial launch is expected in 2019-2020
  • 6G, 7G, 8G Completely Wireless World in our Future?

World’s First Smartphone?

IBM debuted a prototype Smartphone device, code-named the “Angler,” on November 23, 1992, at the COMDEX computer and technology trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Angler prototype, later to be called the Simon, combined a touchscreen mobile phone and PDA – Personal Digital Assistant into one device, allowing a user to make and receive telephone calls, facsimiles, emails, and cellular pages. Not only did the prototype have many PDA features, including a calendar, address book, and notepad, but it also demonstrated other applications, such as maps, stocks, and news. This was possibly the world’s first smartphone.

 Motorola DynaTAC 8000x

In 1983, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x arrived on the market. Though huge by today’s standards, it was considered the first truly mobile phone because it was small enough to carry.  

Motorola StarTAC

In 1996 the launch of the Motorola StarTAC: the world’s first clamshell flip phone. Weighing just over 3 ounces and standing at almost 4 inches tall, the StarTAC was the smallest phone available at the time.

Nokia 1100 (2003)

On the list of best-selling mobile phones released between 1992 and 2018. Nokia since 1999 with 15 Cell Phone Models, has sold more than 1.876 billion Cell Phones Worldwide. While selling 450 million in 2003 alone with just three of their models. The Nokia 1100 shown below and 1110 are the top-selling cell phones in one year of all time, with 250 million-plus sold each.

Apple iPhone

Since the release of the Apple iPhone in 2007, with its many milestone features in many ways was the first to revolutionize the Smartphone industry. This changed everything that users expect from their phones. With the internet and Bluetooth freedom and the “App feature”, this has completely transformed the Smartphone into a virtual world workhorse with an answer to so many of our questions.

The iPhone and its successive generations are seen as the prototype for current smartphones. It removed physical buttons and stylus in favor of a touch-based user interface. The military’s influence is all over the iPhone.

15 Major Technologies Influenced By the Military Integrated Within The Apple And Android Systems

There was a major trend away from the large “brick” phones toward small compact multi-functional hand-held “Smarter” Cell Phones by the reductions in the size of electronics technologies. This was possible not only through military investment and more advanced scientific improvements but because of more cell sites to accommodate increasing usage.

There are key technologies integrated within the Apple and Android Smartphones structure and Operating Systems today that stand out as features that the U.S. or world militaries and governments needed, influenced, purchased, or funded through research and development. As well as the person or thing that made these different from their rivals and made their rivals copy each of them.

These include devices or technologies, such as:

  1. AI – Artificial intelligence
  2. Cellular Communication Technology
  3. Computers
  4. CPU – Central Processing Units – Microprocessors
  5. DRAM – Dynamic Random-Access Memory
  6. DSP – Digital Signal Processing
  7. GMR – Giant Magnetoresistance – Spintronics
  8. GPS – Global Positioning Systems
  9. HDD – Micro Hard Drive Storage or Hard Drive Disks
  10. HTML Hypertext Markup Language and HTTP – Hypertext Transfer Protocol
  11. IC-Integrated Circuits
  12. Internet
  13. LCDs – Liquid-Crystal Displays
  14. Li-ion – Lithium-Ion Batteries
  15. Multi-Touch Screens

15 Core Technologies

The following sections take a closer look at the core technologies and features that Cell Phone manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, and many others have managed to ingeniously integrate into now what is called a smartphone. With the constant new iPhone, Samsung, and Google smartphone series just to name a few coming out on a yearly it is hard to keep up.

1. Artificial Intelligence and Speech Recognition

Although some of the earliest work on artificial intelligence and speech recognition was started by the private industry in the early 1950s until products could be successfully commercialized, the survival of these fields depends on federal funding from the Air Force and DARPA. Dragon Systems would commercialize a speech recognition program in the late 1990s, drawing on years of research and participation in DARPA’s SUR program.

Built into Samsung’s smartphones independent of the OS as is Bixby on the Samsung Galaxy, Apple’s iPhone virtual assistant SIRI, and China’s Baidu Duer. Like most of the other key technological features in Apple’s iOS products, SIRI has its roots in DARPA federal funding and research. The also funded CALO project in the late 2000s would help SIRI. SIRI is an artificial intelligence program consisting of machine learning, natural language processing, and a web search algorithm.

With SIRI, Apple introduced another radical idea for a device input mechanism that has been integrated within various iOS features and applications. SIRI, as well as others, creates a human-machine interface that is redefining our everyday lives.

2. Cellular Communication Technology

Cellular Communication Technology received enormous government support in its early days and its role as the U.S. Military in advancing radiotelephone technology in the twentieth century.

The United States government’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has also documented the role of State support in the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technology that came about following scientific advancements in the application of the Fast Fourier Transform algorithm during the 1980s. From the Federal Communications Commission FCC and the Federal Communications Act to the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command Mobile Subscriber Equipment, they have been intricately involved. DSP is also considered to be a core feature of Apple iOS products with a media player function.

3. Computer

For two decades, from the early 1940s until the early 1960s, the armed forces of the United States were the single most important driver of digital computer development. Though most of the research work took place at universities and in commercial firms, military research organizations such as the Office of Naval Research, the Communications Security Group (known by its code name OP-20-G), and the Air Comptroller’s Office paid for it.

On Computer Development, General William Westmoreland, U.S. Army Chief of Staff said

“Military users became the proving ground for initial concepts and prototype machines. As the commercial computer industry began to take shape, the armed forces and the defense industry served as the major marketplace. Most historical accounts recognize the financial importance of this backing in early work on computers. But few, to date, have grasped the deeper significance of this military involvement.

At the end of World War II, the electronic digital computer technology we take for granted today was still in its earliest infancy. It was expensive, failure-prone, and ill-understood. Digital computers were seen as calculators, useful primarily for accounting and advanced scientific research. Address to the Association of the U.S. Army.”

Reprinted in Paul Dickson, The Electronic Battlefield (Bloomington, IN Indiana University Press, 1976), 215–223.

4. CPU – Central Processing Units – Microprocessors

The microprocessor, a single-chip CPU, the Intel 4004, released in 1971, was the first commercial microprocessor.

Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition Processor with 18 Cores

In 1968, the company Garrett AiResearch, with designer Ray Holt and Steve Geller, were invited to produce a digital computer to compete with electromechanical systems, then under development for the main flight control computer in the US Navy’s new F-14 Tomcat fighter.

The design was completed by 1970 and used a MOS-based chipset as the core CPU. The design was significantly smaller (approximately 20 times) and much more reliable than the mechanical systems it competed against and was used in all of the early Tomcat models. This system contained a “20-bit, pipelined, parallel multi-microprocessor”. However, the system was considered so advanced that the Navy refused to allow the publication of the design until 1997. For this reason, the CADC and the MP944 chipset used are fairly unknown even today.

5. DRAM – Dynamic Random-Access Memory

Dynamic Random Access Memory, DRAM, is one of the most commonly found RAM modules in Smartphones and Computers. 

The Cryptanalytic Machine Code-named “Aquarius” used at Bletchley Park England during World War II incorporated a hard-wired dynamic memory. Cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher was the process that enabled the British to read high-level German army messages during World War II. How Alan Turing cracked the Enigma Code and also one of four movies, one of which is the Imitation Game is very much a part of this story. Turing traveled to the United States in December 1942 to advise U.S. military intelligence in the use of Bombe machines and to share his knowledge of Enigma.

6. DSP – Digital Signal Processing

According to the paper

The Scientist and Engineer’s Guide to Digital Signal Processing by Steven W. Smith, Ph.D. “DSP is signal manipulation. In most cases, these signals originate as sensory data from the real world: seismic vibrations, visual images, sound waves, etc. DSP is the mathematics, the algorithms, and the techniques used to manipulate these signals after they have been converted into a digital form.

“The roots of DSP are in the 1960s and 1970s when digital computers first became available. Computers were expensive during this era, and DSP was limited to only a few critical applications. Pioneering efforts were made in four key areas: radar & sonar, where national security was at risk; oil exploration, where large amounts of money could be made; space exploration, where the data are irreplaceable; and medical imaging, where lives could be saved.”

According to the paper The Scientist and Engineer’s Guide to
Digital Signal Processing by Steven W. Smith, Ph.D.

Yet while military DSP applications demand the highest performance, their market is not the main driver behind the DSP industry; the telecommunications industry is – points out Strauss of Forward Concepts for Analog Devices. “But Analog engineers design their technology for the military first, then create a lower-cost version for the commercial markets later, he says.”

7. GMR – Giant Magnetoresistance – Spintronics

GMR-Giant Magnetoresistance – while the major scientific breakthrough in GMR Spintronics was accomplished in Europe by Peter Andreas Grünberg, a German physicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate for his discovery with Albert Fert of giant magnetoresistance, which brought about a breakthrough in gigabyte hard disk drives. In 1986 he discovered the antiparallel exchange coupling between ferromagnetic layers separated by a thin non-ferromagnetic layer, and in 1988 he discovered the giant magneto-resistive effect GMR. GMR was simultaneously and independently discovered by Albert Fert from the University de Paris Sud.

The U.S. government played a critical role in basic research, as well as in the commercialization of this technology. In his 2009 study, W. Patrick McCray documents that the Department of Defense initiated the Technology Reinvestment Program.

These developments helped set the stage for the subsequent explosion in computer memory that, in turn, helped make it possible to store gigabytes of music, photos, videos, and so forth on smartphones and other portable gadgets.

Spin Transport Electronics, initially called the ‘Magnetic Materials and Devices’ project, was also a public-private consortium. It consisted of DARPA and industry leaders but was initiated (and funded) by DARPA in 1995, with a total government investment of $100 million during its existence. Lower costs became visible when the price of a microchip for the Apollo program fell from $1,000 per unit to anywhere between $20 to $30 per unit within just a few years.

Now, of course, we have SSD Solid State Drives, and online storage providers are alternatives as offerings approach infinite capacity.

8. Global Positioning System (GPS) Integration

When you rely on the GPS app on that Android phone to keep yourself from getting lost, you’re using the same Global Positioning System satellites set up by the U.S. Department of Defense in the early 1990s. At President Clinton’s behest, the system became available to civilian users in 1996.

People like Roger L. Easton, Ivan Getting, Bradford Parkinson, and Dr. Gladys West and many others were all responsible for GPS. GPS was an attempt by the Department of Defense to digitize worldwide geographic positioning to enhance the coordination and accuracy of deployed military assets. What initially began in the 1970s as a strictly military use-only technology is now widely available to civilians for various uses.

A Smartphone user can search for a nearby restaurant or an address, based on the NAVSTAR GPS system, which consists of a 24-satellite constellation providing global navigation and timing data for its users. 94 This technology, as well as the infrastructure of the system, would have been impossible without the government taking the initiative and making the necessary financial commitment for such a highly complex system.

9. HDD – Micro Hard Drive Storage – Hard Drive Disks

The first Hard Drive was the IBM RAMAC 305, weighed over a ton and required a lot of space. The picture below is the IBM 305 at the U.S. Army Red River Arsenal in the foreground.

The IBM 305 RAMAC was the first commercial computer that used a moving head hard disk drive (magnetic disk storage) for secondary storage. The system was publicly announced on September 14, 1956, with test units already installed at the U.S. Navy and at private corporations.

The cost, at $10,000 per MB, was so prohibitive that only the U.S. military and wealthy private corporations could afford the RAMAC 305. The technology behind the hard drive used by the RAMAC 305, however, was an instrumental first iteration of the same magnetic storage technology still used in hard-disk drives (HDDs) today. It featured a moving head to record and retrieve data on a magnetic medium.

Nimbus Data ExaDrive DC100 TB_SSD Worlds Largest Solid State Drive as of March 2019

Today’s SSDs Solid State Drives are growing in capacity every day. In March 2018, Nimbus Data Launched the world’s largest verified Solid State Drive of 100 Terabytes and, as far as we have seen, is the largest so far, and we are sure soon to be dethroned.

10. HTML Hypertext Markup Language & HTTP – Hypertext Transfer Protocol

Integral to the Internet, HTML is a language while HTTP is a Protocol. HTML tags are used to tag or mark normal text so that it becomes hypertext and several hypertext pages can be interlinked with each other, resulting in the Internet.

What does the Internet, Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), or Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) mean to any computer or smart device? Or, what would a computer or smart device be worth in the absence of the Internet or without cellular communication capability?

In the late 1980s, British scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), uniform resource locators (URL), and uniform Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

Berners-Lee, with the help of another computer scientist named Robert Cailliau, implemented the first successful HTTP for the computers installed at CERN. Berners-Lee and Cailliau’s 1989 platform describing the building of the World Wide Web eventually became the international standard for computers all over the world to connect.

11. IC-Integrated Circuits

An integrated circuit is a microscopic array of electronic circuits and electronic components (resistors, capacitors, inductors…) that are diffused or implanted into the surface of semiconductor material wafers such as silicon.

The invention of new silicon-based IC-Integrated Circuits led to technological developments in various fields in electronics. The rise of PCs – Personal Computers, Cellular Technology, the Internet, and most of the electronic devices found on the market today utilize these smart, tiny devices.

The journey of Integrated Circuits into devices such as Smartphones was aided by the manufacturing of highly advanced technologies such as microprocessors and had significant economic implications that required collaborative efforts between the government and industry. The advanced performance and affordability of microprocessors and memory chips today are, to a great extent, the result of years of government intervention and supervision.

12. Internet

Covering the invention of the Internet is bigger than a few paragraphs and the U.S. Militaries fingerprints are all over it and because the people who invented the internet came from all over the world. The true driving force was that of the U.S. defense department because they had a crucial need for efficiency between the Advanced Research Projects Agency (Arpa)–which later changed its name to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa)–and its many contractors. Without Arpa, the internet wouldn’t exist.

Arpa had a specific military incentive for creating the internet as it offered a way to bring a computer tool system to its companies “Research and Development Factory.” In 1969, Arpa had built a computer network called Arpanet, which linked mainframe computers at universities, government agencies, and defense contractors around the United States.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, DARPA funded the necessary communication protocol (TCP/IP), operating system (UNIX), and email programs needed for the communication system, while the National Science Foundation (NSF) initiated the development of the first high-speed digital networks in the US. The rest, as they say, is history, and you can never put that genie back in the bottle.

13. LCDs – Liquid-Crystal Displays

LCD’s Liquid-Crystal Displays have preceded LED’s Light-Emitting Diodes and now OLED Organic Light-Emitting Diodes and this technology is constantly changing and progressing and will continue to do so.

Smartphone displays are rooted in the U.S. Military’s need to strengthen its technological capabilities as a matter of national security.

The major breakthrough in LCD technology came about during the 1970s when the thin-film transistor (TFT) was being developed at the laboratory of Westinghouse under the direction of Peter Brody. The research carried out at Westinghouse was almost entirely funded by the US Army.

As in most of the components in the road to a Smartphone’s, there are many contributors. For the LCD from 1888 Friedrich Reinitzer, 1962 RCA researcher Richard Williams, and between 1964 and 1968 RCA Research.

In 1968, a working group consisting of military brass, civil servants, and scientists was established to find a suitable replacement technology for replacing cathode ray tubes. George Gray and his team of chemists at the University of Hull were awarded the contract to deliver room temperature liquid-crystals. They did, and the results were patented and published in 1973. In 1972, the first modern LCD watch was manufactured based on James Fergason’s patent.

14. Li-ion – Lithium-Ion Batteries

Both the iPhone XS and the Samsung S9 have Lithium-Ion non-removable batteries.

The Lithium-Ion Battery is another example of a U.S. Government influenced technology. John B. Goodenough, who pioneered the early research on lithium-ion battery technology, received his main funding support from the Department of Energy (DoE) and National Science Foundation (NSF) in the late 1980s.

The absence of a battery technology that met the storage capacity needs of increasingly powerful electronic devices posed one of the greatest challenges that the electronics industry faced following the revolution in semiconductor devices. The invention of lithium-ion technology-enabled portable devices to become much slimmer and lighter as battery capacity increased relative to size.

15. Multi-Touch Screens

One of the biggest changes from basic Cell Phones to smartphones was the introduction of multi-touch screens and gesture recognition with operated scrolling on a glass screen. The underlying scientific base and patent application for the new finger tracking and gesture identification system was built on the earlier studies on capacitive sensing and touch-screen technologies.

As in most of these innovative technologies, many contributors added to what E. A. Johnson considered the inventor of capacitive touch-screens. Capacitive sensing is a technology that draws on the human body’s ability to act as a capacitor and store an electric charge. Johnson published his first studies in the 1960s while working at Royal Radar Establishment, a British government agency established for Research and Development of Military Defense-Related Technologies.

The knowledge behind this ground-breaking interface with electronic devices relied on earlier basic and applied research that had been supported by the State. The IBM Simon, as noted above, was the first touch screen. Apple released the first Multi-touch screens on their iPhones in 2007. The technology allowed human-machine interaction through a new interface that allowed fingers to navigate the glass surface of LCD displays.

Nearly all of the technology in many of the world’s most ubiquitous electronic devices can be traced to a single, taxpayer-funded source: the US Department of Defense.

In her article “The Entrepreneurial State Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths,” Italian economist Mariana Mazzucato wrote that Apple’s wildly popular handheld devices are a present-day example of how Apple’s iOS products, SIRI, has its roots in federal funding and research.

As the chart below demonstrates, there’s little in these devices that do not owe their existence to the US Department of Defense in some form or another.

Mariana Mazzucato, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking the Public vs. Private Sector Myths.


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We are a website that writes helpful articles about the latest technology for emergency preparedness and power grid energy. We try new devices and analyze their quality, durability, effects, for emergency preparedness.

This site is owned and operated by Fremontii, LLC. Fremontii, LLC. is a participant in Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to