Fake News: Henry T Sampdon (or Sampson) Was NOT The Inventor of the Cellphone

Fact Check

  • by: Maarten Schenk
Fake News: Henry T Sampdon (or Sampson) Was NOT The Inventor of the Cellphone

Did Henry T Sampson (or Sampdon) invent the modern cell phone? No, that's not true: Sampson invented something called the gamma-electric cell which produces electrical power out of (nuclear) radiation but it has nothing to do with telecommunications or phones. The invention of the cell phone is generally credited to Motorola engineer Martin Cooper.

This Facebook post (archived here) contains an example of the inaccurately attributed invention, with an image showing two pictures of Henry T Sampson and a caption that reads:

Cellphone turns 40 today. Lets celebrate the inventor Henry T Sampdon

Here is an example of the image in question:


Dr. Sampson was quite the accomplished inventor but his specialized field was chemical engineering. You can read his obituary here:

Dr. Henry T. Sampson, Jr. Gamma-Electric Cell Inventor Remembered

(CBM) - Dr. Henry T. Sampson, Jr., a living legacy will be remembered during a memorial service planned at Rolling Hills Covenant Church (North Campus) in Rolling Hills Estates, CA on July 11, 2015.

The same obituary can also be read at Purdue, where he went to college, and it contains this quote from the man:

"Contrary to what you read on the Internet, I did not invent the cell phone"

The confusion is likely caused by the name of his real invention, the "gamma-electric cell", for which you can read his patent here. In it his invention is is described as:

The present invention relates to a gamma-electric cell for producing a high-output voltage from a source of radiation wherein the gamma-electric cell includes a central collector constructed of a dense metal and with the central collector encapsulated within an outer layer of dielectric material. A further conductive layer is then disposed on or within the dielectric material so as to provide for a high voltage output between the conductive layer and the central collector upon the reception of radiation by the gamma-electric cell. The invention also includes the use of a plurality of collectors radiating from the central collector throughout the dielectric material so as to increase the collection area and thereby increase the current and/or output voltage. Other aspects of the invention are directed to the method of producing a high voltage output gamma-electric cell by encapsulation techniques using a dielectric material which is castable and curable so as to provide for an intimate contact between the collectors and the dielectric material which surrounds and encapsulates the collectors. Other aspects of the method of encapsulation of the present invention include the use of specific dielectric materials and also the elimination of trapped gases within the dielectric material.

None of that has anything to do with cellphones, it is a method to generate electricity from a radiation source.

By all means we should celebrate the man for his invention, but the least thing we could do is to celebrate him for the one he actually made.

  Maarten Schenk

Maarten Schenk is the co-founder and COO/CTO of Lead Stories and an expert on fake news and hoax websites. He likes to go beyond just debunking trending fake news stories and is endlessly fascinated by the dazzling variety of psychological and technical tricks used by the people and networks who intentionally spread made-up things on the internet.

Read more about or contact Maarten Schenk

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