Martin Cooper

Martin Cooper is back in the news. Fifty years ago, he headed the team that developed the cell phone at Motorola.

I had just taken my first job at Motorola after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. I worked in an office and lab a few feet from Martin Coper’s office. Motorola had a variety of two way radio products, and I was learning about their pocket pagers.

I was aware that the only blacks that worked at Motorola fed the incinerator outside the plant. They were not allowed to enter the building. When I asked about this, I was told by more than one employee – nominally professional employees like myself – that “If we keep the unions out, Motorola will keep the niggers out”. This was the Motorola of the late 1950’s in Chicago.  There may be vehement denials of what I have just said. But no one can deny that Motorola signed a consent decree that led to the first black hires. It was either that or lose their lucrative government contracts for two way radios.

Fifty years is a long time. I didn’t last long at Motorola. I went on to Zenith Radio Corporation, where I worked for five years. Zenith was not perfect, but it was a different world from Motorola. But Martin Cooper has never spoken about the virulent racism that existed a Motorola.

Robert Gilchrist Huenemann, M.S.E.E.

April 5, 2023