Star Trek: TOS (1966) showed handheld wireless communicators long before mobile phones came into existence, but was it the first?

In 1926, Tesla envisioned mobile phones even better than Star Trek:

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There seems to be a huge gap between 1926 and 1966 if Star Trek was really the first. Also, we have Jules Vernes and H. G. Wells-type writers who predicted the atom bomb, moon landing, etc. in great detail. So, it is possible that someone wrote about handheld wireless communicators before 1926.

What sci-fi work introduced handheld wireless communicators?

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    Walkie talkies were a thing in WW2, and were available as toys for children by the mid 60s. So wireless communicators weren't fictional by the time Trek was around. Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 3:11
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    Quote source: tfcbooks.com/tesla/1926-01-30.htm Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 8:04
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    @user13972 I'd give you an up vote for that. After all, this is sci-fi and fantasy. And if it walks like a phone and talks like a phone... Dice predictions may be pushing it, but anyone who can find fantasy examples of communication through linked magical mirrors or anything like that - that's absolutely relevant. Clarke's Third Law is pretty clear about that.
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 8:37
  • 5
    Since some answers contain dates later than this; the first real world walkie-talkie was made in 1937. Although "The first handheld walkie-talkie was the AM SCR-536 transceiver from 1941, also made by Motorola, named the Handie-Talkie (HT). The terms are often confused today, but the original walkie-talkie referred to the back mounted model, while the handie-talkie was the device which could be held entirely in the hand."
    – JollyJoker
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 12:05
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    Tesla's mention of the "huge brain" makes me wonder if he'd been exposed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's idea of the "noosphere" introduced in a 1922 (non-fiction) book (although the general idea certainly goes back longer). However so far as I can tell Chardin was short on implementation details beyond expecting technology to play a part: “... geotechnology extending a closely interdependent network of its enterprises over the whole earth ...”. Makes me wonder if any SF authors of the day might have thought about the details some more.
    – timday
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 11:11

6 Answers 6


1915: "John Jones's Dollar", a short story by Harry Stephen Keeler; first published in the August, 1915 issue of The Black Cat, a scan of which is available at the Internet Archive; the text of the story is available at Project Gutenberg.

"B262H72476Male, you are late to class again. What excuse have you to offer today?"

From the hollow cylinder emanated a shrill voice, while the lips of the picture on the glass square moved in unison with the words:

"Professor, you will perceive by consulting your class book, that I have recently taken up my residence near the North Pole. For some reason, wireless communication between the Central Energy Station and all points north of 89 degrees was cut off a while ago, on account of which fact I could not appear in the Visaphone. Hence—"

"Enough, sir," roared the professor. "Always ready with an excuse, B262H72476Male. I shall immediately investigate your tale."

From his coat pocket, the professor withdrew an instrument which, although supplied with an earpiece and a mouthpiece, had no wires whatever attached. Raising it to his lips, he spoke:

"Hello. Central Energy Station, please." A pause ensued. "Central Energy Station? This is the professor of history at the University of Terra, speaking. One of my students informs me that the North Pole region was out of communication with the Visaphone System this morning. Is that statement true? I would—"

A voice, apparently from nowhere, spoke into the professor's ear. "Quite true, Professor. A train of our ether waves accidently fell into parallelism with a train of waves from the Venus Substation. By the most peculiar mischance, the two trains happened to be displaced, with reference to each other, one half of a wave length, with the unfortunate result that the negative points of one coincided with the positive points of maximum amplitude of the other. Hence the two wave trains nullified each other and communication ceased for one hundred and eighty-five seconds—until the earth had revolved far enough to throw them out of parallelism."

"Ah! Thank you," replied the professor. He dropped his instrument into his coat pocket and gazed in the direction of the glass square whose image had so aroused his ire. "I apologize, B262H72476Male, for my suspicions as to your veracity—but I had in mind several former experiences." He shook a warning forefinger. "I will now resume my talk."

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    This is fantastic! I didn't realize the story was so old. I read it with much fun in 1980ies in a translated anthology published in the USSR. Suffice to say I didn't imagine we would have cell phones back then.
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 14:14
  • Wow! It predates Tesla..
    – user931
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 15:37

If you are willing to stretch what might be considered SciFi:

Tik-Tok of Oz by L. Frank Baum published in 1914.

"Very well," said the Wizard, and without any fuss or mystery whatever he performed a magical rite that was simple and effective. Therefore those seated in the Nome King's cavern were both startled and amazed when all the people of Oogaboo suddenly disappeared from the room, and with them the Rose Princess. At first they could not understand it at all; but presently Shaggy suspected the truth, and believing that Ozma was now taking an interest in the party he drew from his pocket a tiny instrument which he placed against his ear.

Ozma, observing this action in her Magic Picture, at once caught up a similar instrument from a table beside her and held it to her own ear. The two instruments recorded the same delicate vibrations of sound and formed a wireless telephone, an invention of the Wizard. Those separated by any distance were thus enabled to converse together with perfect ease and without any wire connection.

"Do you hear me, Shaggy Man?" asked Ozma.

"Yes, Your Highness," he replied.


1936: "Finality Unlimited", a novella by Donald Wandrei, first published in Astounding Stories, September 1936, available at the Internet Archive. The story is set (initially) on August 28, 2005:

Despite the heat, an air of excitement prevailed on the streets and the hanging-garden cafes. The Second Expedition to Mercury should land at any time now with news of what happened to the First Expedition, still missing from its maiden voyage years ago in 1991.

The arteries and towers of Manhattan had begun to assume the aspect of a dream city, as the products of science came into wider use. The race was markedly happier, healthier, taller than a century before; the atmosphere filtered of dirt and gases; the harbors clean again; life a richer and broader experience. Each individual carried an identification tag, and a pocket radiophone that permitted conversation with any one anywhere on the globe.

[. . . .]

Stanley King had dressed and begun packing when he heard the signal of his pocket radiophone. He hesitated about answering it. He didn't want to get tangled with anything that might delay his departure. Still, it might be a call of importance, and finally he answered with a noncommittal, "Yes?"

1930: "Mr. Murphy of New York", a short story by Thomas McMorrow; first published in the March 22, 1930 issue of The Saturday Evening Post; also the answer to the story-ID question Story about leaving the bath running/skyscraper collapse.

"Now, gentlemen, please," breathed Mr. Bligh. "Do remember that I'm a thousand miles from home and haven't had any lunch yet. Well, I shall have to call up." He took out his pocketell. "Are you there? Billy calling . . . Hello, Molly! I just called you to say that I can't possibly get home— What's that, sweetheart? . . . Oh, no, no. . . . But I say that I am not! I am in New York in a conference. . . . Yes, business. . . . Why don't I— Now, Molly, how can you ask me to be so rude? . . . Oh, very well, my dear, in a moment." He turned to us, coloring, and said, "Will you permit?" We were married men ourselves; we smiled and got to our feet and bowed to his lady when she appeared; her eyes swept us vigilantly. "I'm sorry this had to happen, gentlemen," said Mr. Bligh, blanking her. "May we proceed now with our affair?"

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    The children's book "The 35th of May" by Erich Kästner comes at least close to your second entry. The wireless communication device (in a chapter about a sci-fi-like "city of the future", even if the book itself is more fantasy) is imagined as an old style telephone receiver that's not hooked up but carried around in your coat pocket. This is from 1931, so your answer still beats this, but it's worth at least a honorary mention. Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 9:39
  • Space Cadet by Heinlein, has cell phones in 1948: goodreads.com/book/show/16684.Space_Cadet (Feb 1948) One of his later stories (1958 or so?) had a considerable discussion of what high frequency waves would be needed to achieve enough bandwidth to serve the whole population. The device required two dials to get through, so us moderns would probably frustrated by them, but he nailed down the fequencies, and mention tat the things woud have to be pretty moron proof. Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 5:00
  • Triplanetary was serialized in 1934, according to wiki, but I have only read the novel versions of "Doc" Smith's lensman books. But, they definitely had long-range wireless communications prior to the lens.
    – Seeds
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 15:26
  • Officially sci-fi much earlier answer is below (1915)
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 14:12

The earliest example I can find of a hand-held 2-way electronic communications device is Dick Tracy's 2-way wrist radio which appeared in the Dick Tracy comic strip on January 13, 1946.

There must be many earlier stories that involve communications by magical (or other non-scientific) means.

  • 6
    While not as early as some of the others that have been posted since this answer, it's worth noting that this was a very popular comic strip that it can be assumed almost any later work was influenced by; the others are potentially obscure enough to have gone unnoticed, but Dick Tracy's communicator was a well-known pop culture concept.
    – Jules
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 0:57

Philip Francis Nowlan described something called a "chest disc", which while not exactly handheld is a wireless portable communicator, back in 1928 according to Technovelgy:

The chest discs were likewise self-contained sending sets, strapped to the chest a few inches below the neck and actuated by the vibrations from the vocal cords through the body tissues. The total range of these sets was about eighteen miles. Reception was remarkably clear, quite free from the static of 20th Century radios, and of a strength in direct proportion to the distance of the speaker.> http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=1614

These were used together with something called an "Ultraphone Ear-Disc":

These ultraphones were quite different from the one used by Wilma's companion scout the day I saved her from the attack of the bandit Gang. That one was contained entirely in a small pocket case. These, with which we were now equipped, consisted of a pair of ear discs, each a separate and self-contained receiving set They slipped into little pockets over our ears in the fabric helmets we wore, and shut out virtually all extraneous sounds...

In 1923, H.G. Wells had a node-based communication network where everyone had cables they could tap into preplaced pillars for asynchronous remote wireless communication:

On his second walk with Mr. Barnstaple he said he was going to hear from his mother, and Mr. Barnstaple was shown the equivalent of correspondence in Utopia. Crystal carried a little bundle of wires and light rods; and presently coming to a place where a pillar stood in the midst of a lawn he spread this affair out like a long cat's cradle and tapped a little stud in the pillar with a key that he carried on a light gold chain about his neck. Then he took up a receiver attached to his apparatus, and spoke aloud and listened and presently heard a voice.

It was a very pleasant woman's voice; it talked to Crystal for a time without interruption, and then Crystal talked back, and afterwards there were other voices, some of which Crystal answered and some which he heard without replying. Then he gathered up his apparatus again.

This Mr. Barnstaple learnt was the Utopian equivalent of letter and telephone. For in Utopia, except by previous arrangement, people do not talk together on the telephone. A message is sent to the station of the district in which the recipient is known to be, and there it waits until he chooses to tap his accumulated messages. And any that one wishes to repeat can be repeated. Then he talks back to the senders and dispatches any other messages he wishes. The transmission is wireless. The little pillars supply electric power for transmission or for any other purpose the Utopians require. For example, the gardeners resort to them to run their mowers and diggers and rakes and rollers. http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=775

while not fully wireless, it was handheld and only differs from our current mobile phone network in that A) it's asynchronous and B) instead of receiving wireless signals from a cabled network, it's receiving cabled signals from a wireless network.


A character in Heinlein's 1948 novel Space Cadet tells his friend something to the effect "I wish I had her cell number". I will update in morning when I can find the page.

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    One of the characters also mentions outsmarting his parents (who otherwise would have called and bugged him on an important day) by packing his phone in his suitcase.
    – JRE
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 5:13
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    That was Tex trying to get the phone number of a nurse as he and Matt were going through physical examinations as they signed up to become members of the space patrol.
    – JRE
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 19:16
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    One of his short stories had a pilot phoning his girlfriend via the cellular network. Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 21:24
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    A "Space Cadet" mention of mobile phone-like tech is :"Say, your telephone is sounding." "Oh!" Matt fumbled in his pouch and got out his phone. Source: technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=745
    – timday
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 11:01

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