By Yolanda Spivey
This man is not well known, but he has certainly made his mark in this universe with an invention that is virtually used by millions of people around the world—cellular phone technology. Henry T. Sampson, Jr. was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1934. On July 6th, 1971, he patented a “Gamma Electric Cell,” Patent No. 3,591,860. His invention was a nuclear reacting chip that produced a stable high-voltage output and current to detect radiation in the ground.
Sampson’s invention was tested out on April 3rd, 1973 by Motorola engineer Marty Cooper who placed his first public call from a cellular phone in midtown Manhattan. In 1983, Mobile Communications took the cellular phone to a new level by creating the Cellular System which regulated the portable telephones. And in the 1990’s cell phones took off, making it possible for people to connect and communicate virtually anywhere.
Sampson went on to do other remarkable things in his life. In 1967, he was the first Black person to receive a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering in the United States. In his early life between the years 1962 to 1964, he served in the United States Navy. He also holds patents related to solid rocket motors which is a binder system for propellants and explosives.
Sampson later became a film historian and produced documentary films on early Black filmmakers. His book “Blacks in Black and White: A source Book on Black Films,” examines African American film makers in the 20th Century who were overlooked by mainstream society. He also wrote, “The Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865-1910.” His most recent work was produced in 2005 and was a two volume book set called, “Singing on the Ether Waves: A Chronological History of African Americans in Radio and Television Programming, 1925-1955.”
Many critics and historians do not credit Sampson with the invention of the cell phone—but no matter what, his “gamma electric cell,” was the technology that made cell phones possible and it is still used in cell phones today.