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Meet the black man who invented cell phone technology

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.

Yolanda Spivey writes on a variety of topics and is the founder of Black Insurance News. She can be reached at organize@yourblackworld.net or you can visit her Facebook page.

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28 thoughts on “Meet the black man who invented cell phone technology

    • Nene

      So…did you read the entire article first before commenting? Because I’m sure at the end its says that his invention made cell phone technology possible.

      Reply
    • Cortez Liggins

      Here we go again. A black man invents the main part (which manifest into what we now call cell phones) but we make sure to say that he did not invent the cell phone. It is a sad broken record. That is the same thing that is said about Lewis Latimer. He invented the filament that makes the light bulb…..a light bulb, but you never are supposed to say that he invented the light bulb. That is written in the books for Thomas Edison. Sad, just sad…..

      Reply
    • tariq Williams

      The article mever said that he invented the cell phone, what the article said was the he invented cell phone technology. But your post is spoken like a true hater. Indicative of the white supremacist system apparently you are so consumed
      with hatred for so called “Black” people, just like the white
      supremacist system that you feel
      as though it is somehow your
      duty to suppress/erase any and
      all contributions (large and
      small) to America and the world
      made by so called “Black”
      people. Judging by yout post it is apparent that you are one of
      those members of the vast
      majority segment of American
      society who claims that he/she
      is not a racist and in some cases you even deny that you are a republican even though your views, mentality and world view coincide perfectly with those of a small minded, hate consumed racist, right wing, ultre-con, republican nut-jobs.

      Reply
  1. Arnett V Cooper

    I knew one of us have actually invented sometime worth while and as usual we do not get the credit and the respect.Everybody see us as criminals rapists making babies and not taking care of them which is sad and unfortunate but at the same time before slavery came upon us into this country we not only invented technology but we honored our Goddess and God and our Ancestors and we honored everybody and everything that had something to do with God Mr Pretell stop hating on Brother Sampson he may not invented the cell phone but he manages to create the energy cell from radiation that is now known as the cell phone it always somebody that do not like or want us to get the credit and respect that we deserve history wise and technology wise

    Reply
  2. Damien Hodge

    Wow! Please stop it… Read the freakin article! Got doggit… It sickens me when people speak prematurely. Now if you’re just hating, say that. We will respect you more.

    Reply
  3. WizardG

    According to Wikipedia he is being confused as the person who invented the cell phone or the cell phone technology. He actually worked with someone to invent a cell that detects and manipulates nuclear reactor power. Nothing to do with cell phones at all! But if it makes everyone feel good to give him credit as having something to do with the creation of cell phones go ahead! His field was in nuclear reactors not in cell phones which have nothing to do with nuclear fission/fusion. All said. He is a genius and an inventor.

    Reply
    • Yolanda Spivey

      Wikipedia is wrong. The gamma cell is currently used in all cell phones to this day. Without that radiation technology, cell phones wouldn’t be possible. Never rely on Wikipedia as the end all be all. If you google his name, you will see him in a variety of interviews admitting that his patent is used in cell phones.

      Reply
  4. Harrison

    He’ll i Went to the black businessman of America trying to get all the information on cell phone and cell phone towers to sell my idea on taking the cell phone. It was all white and Asian selling technology people selling at the black businessman of America but they stole my idea now of the companies have Been Know as cricket and MetroPCS. He’ll I Lost millions of dollars

    Reply
  5. Carole McLaughlin

    Thank each for sharing facts and opinions. Great information to continue to “quinch the thirst” yet feed our souls with so much empowered knowledge!!

    Reply
  6. Suzysaywhat

    Sampson, what a a powerful name and person.
    Just makes me feel proud to see that our ancestors are
    doing what they do best; invent.

    Reply
  7. Ricki Stevenson

    Yolanda Spivey, Thank you for a wonderful exposé on the Black man who created the technology that made our cell phones possible! Thank you doubly for coming back to refute those who tried to deny Mr Sampson’s contribution to cell phone technology. The after comments are priceless! As my mother always said, “if it’s not written, it never happened!”

    Reply
  8. Chosinfew

    I came across this information written by Ryan Turner in 2002:

    There is a problem, however, in pinpointing exactly who invented the cell
    phone itself. Conventional wisdom usually presents two candidates as deserving the credit: Dr. Martin Cooper and Dr. Henry T. Sampson. This gets really interesting when you take stock of what each is credited with.

    The first working cellular phone for commercial use– still a car phone– is generally credited to Motorola, which demonstrated it on
    October 13, 1983, in Chicago. They would design and produce a true portable cellular phone in 1984, and over the course of the year
    between, Motorola locked up over 250 patents related to the design for a comprehensive cellular phone network– down to how the phone itself would look.

    Keep in mind that the Federal Communications Commission opted, between 1947 and the early 1980s, to only release up to 24 frequencies
    for cellular services. One of the major reasons for their hesitancy was an attempt to address AT&T’s desire to open up new frequencies
    allocated to cellular services, which would only be devoted to mobile car radio phones (which was their specialty).

    Other entities, such as Motorola, wanted a wider spectrum opened up to other devices– especially portable handheld units (which was their
    specialty). Until 1983, cell phones literally each took up a selected frequency, you could only have that many calls active at any one time.
    This means users could expect to wait a half-hour just to get a dial tone– assuming they managed to endure the five to ten year wait to
    even receive the service in the first place. We should also point out that these earlier cell phones were not exactly portable, often coming
    in 30-pound suitcases that went into a car’s trunk area.

    Enter Dr. Cooper, who was born in 1929 in Chicago, Illinois, and is widely credited as the “father of the cell phone.” He earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, served in the U.S. Navy for four years on combat ships and a submarine, before ultimately landing at Motorola in 1954, where he helped develop the first handheld police radios for the Chicago Police Department in 1967, before heading up the research efforts on cellular technology.

    During 1973, Dr. Cooper was a project manager for Motorola. On April 3 of that year, he and his team set up a cellular base station with a small antenna box on the roof of what is now the Alliance Capital Building in New York City, and from outside the Manhattan Hilton, he placed what is considered the first handheld cellular call, not-so-coincidentally to Joel Engel, the chief researcher at Bell Laboratories. The phone used was the Dyna-Tac phone. This was a unit that weighed 2.5 pounds, measured 9 x 5 x 1.75 inches, and after a charging period of 10 hours, allowed a user to dial or receive or talk on a phone conversation for a then-unheard of 35 minutes.

    Now we’ll introduce Henry Thomas Sampson, an African-American who was born in 1934 in Jackson, Mississippi. Sampson received his
    undergraduate science degree in 1956 from Purdue University; a masters in engineering in 1961 from the University of California, Los Angeles; a masters in nuclear engineering in 1965 and a doctorate in the same field in 1967 from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Between 1956 and 1961, Sampson was a chemical engineer at the China Lake, California facilities of the U.S. Naval Weapons Center, worked at the Atomic Energy Commission, and eventually landed at the Aerospace Corporation, located in El Segundo, California.

    During that time, he worked on a number of projects that ultimately led to his patents for solid rocket motor technology and
    processes to convert of nuclear energy into electricity. Most noteworthy, however, is the July 6, 1971 patent (#3,591,860) held by both Sampson and Professor George Hunter Miley of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, for something called a “gamma electric cell.” This was a power source for high-voltage, low-current applications that could also be used to detect radiation, without requiring another energy source, and without leaking significant amounts of power, unlike previous designs. It is unclear how and to what degree the model of their device detected FM radio wave, but it is, without much doubt, a patent which is cited as crucial to the ultimate design of the cell phones we know and love (or hate) today.

    So the upshot is probably this: it might be safe to say that Dr. Cooper is the inventor of the first portable handheld cellular phone, and the first person to make a call on such a phone, while Drs. Sampson and Miley, invented, if not an actual working unit, then a pretty important element central to cellular technology without which we would not have the cellular phones and wireless applications around us today. The discouraging part is that the citations of Dt. Cooper’s accomplishments are much easier to locate both on- and offline, and are widely considered the starting point of cellular communications as we know them today. The contribution of Drs. Sampson and Miley are either not widely known, nor actively promoted.

    Reply
  9. Leatha J. Patton

    It is always that way whenever any black person is given credit for anything that is not something negative. Most of the inventions that make life easier were invented by black people. Sarah Boone – the ironing board; George T. Samson – the clothes dryer; Jan E. Matzlinger – the shoe lasting machine; Alexander Miles -the elevator; Garrett A. Morgan – the traffic signal; John Burr – the lawn mower. The list is long. Black people invented ‘numbers’, also called ‘policy.’ (Chicago was the last stronghold. Ted Roe, who controlled it in this city was assassinated by the syndicate in 1952 so that they could seize control.) Eventually the government took control and renamed it The Lottery. Now then, wait for the barrage of ‘dissertations’ on all of the above!!

    Reply
  10. Chosinfew

    “Policy” and the “Numbers racket” were two entirely different things. You are however, correct about The Lottery. It killed off the Policy Wheels.

    Reply
  11. Seemespeak

    We dont need to argue our peoples accomplishments with these fools lets all just be proud and unrelenting in our stregnths and unwavering in our families positive direction. We dont need these culture vultures

    Reply
  12. chosinfew

    I don’t think anything is being argued. One should always have the correct facts when discussing a subject. Otherwise you have people believing what isn’t true, such as the so-called Willie Lynch Letter. Which is an obvious fake, or the King Alfred Plan, which was never real but part of a marketing plan for a book.

    You can’t be well informed if you’re not informed well.

    Last of the Frozen Chosin and one of the Chosin few

    Reply
  13. Rev Leon Blackstone

    I will clear up the cell phone question.

    The REAL inventor of the cell phone is Dr. Raymond Paul Phillips of Terrell Tx. He was a student at Southwestern Christian College when it was invented in 1956, and the patent was granted in 1959.

    It was demonstrated and reported on by the Terrell Tribune on March 6, 1964.

    The original cell phone was patented by him as the RADIO PHONE.

    On March 10, 1987, Dr. Phillips was awarded a House Resolution From the Georgia House of Representatives, by Former House member, Representative John E. White.

    Sadly, he never enjoyed the benefits or recognition from such a wonderful invention, or the 7 other cutting edge inventions he is credited with.

    “Their” protection of him, their greed, his lack of knowledge and proper guidance caused him to die as a pauper.

    Reply
  14. Gavin

    Henry T Sampson specifically stated, “I had nothing to do with the cell phone, regardless of what you read on the internet.

    Dear black brothers and sisters, this is becoming embarrassing. A gamma cell conductor has absolutely nothing to do with cellular telephone technology.

    Reply

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