The magical world of the Walkie-talkie

Communication now is ubiquitous. I was walking down the street this morning and saw a group of kids, perhaps no older than 7, each one armed with and frantically using their mobile phone.

It is hard to believe that just a few years ago, communication was much more limited. Technologically, the home telephone was the most exciting, and even when “cordless” they were not exactly the most dynamic way to communicate. Since you were still tethered to the base station in your home.

One technology though, for many years, allowed for freedom that would hint at the remarkable future in which we currently exist, the walkie-talkie.

This wireless radio technology was a practical way for people to communicate and its development during the Second World War has been variously credited to Donald L. Hings, radio engineer Alfred J. Gross, and engineering teams at Motorola.

First used for infantry, similar designs were created for field artillery and tank units. After the war, walkie-talkies spread to government and eventually commercial and industrial work. As the price fell, the use of them blossomed.

Eventually the price was low enough that they were made available as children’s toys. It is with these toys that many of us had our first experience with the wireless world. Perhaps it was playing some imaginary battle in the woods or just as a means to stay in touch with a neighbor friend after curfew.

Available in various form factors as toys, their popularity peaked while the price for them hit rock bottom in the eighties. If I recall correctly my issue with owning a set at this point was not the price, although admittedly I bought the cheapest sets, but was instead the price of batteries.

Still even if you did not have batteries, they made walkie-talkies that were actually toys with no electronics. So you just used them to yell messages to your friends, followed by saying “over.” It was an amazing time for imagination.

It must be pretty amazing for a kid to own a mobile phone. They are magical screens that give us so much in such a tiny rectangle. But I feel bad that this generation will never know the joy of the simple freedom that unfettered and inconvenient voice-only communication gave to the generations that came before them.

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The Retroist

Editor/Podcaster at Retroist
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