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A Video From 1938 Has People Convinced Of Time Travel. But What The Hell Is Really Going On?

Why do they always visit 1930s USA?

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockNov 3 2022, 15:46 UTC
A crowded street in 1938 New York.
Not a cell phone in sight (due to the photograph being from 1938). Image credit: Everett Collection/shutterstock.com

Last month, we discovered that a bunch of people were convinced of time travel due to a 1937 painting appearing to depict a man holding a cell phone, and reacting like he'd seen a really bad tweet. This month is following in a similar fashion, with people convinced that a 1938 video shows a woman walking and talking on her cell phone.

The film, shot in 1938 New York, does show a woman holding something to her ear, which she then puts down like she's just finished a call. As well as a few people who were ready to say this confirmed time travel, there were a few skeptics who pointed out some obvious flaws in the logic.

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"If it really was a phone, I would be more curious about how she managed to get a signal from a non-[existent] network provider," one person wrote.

"If time travel was possible, I think it would also be possible to solve the problem of using a cell phone without proprietary cell phone towers," another responded. "But that being said, why the hell wouldn't you just use an ear bud so as not to draw attention to yourself?"

There is, of course, the question of why mobile phone design changed rapidly over 40-ish years, before settling on the same design until whenever it is in the distant future that time travel is invented. 

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But if it's not a cell phone, what is it? Well, it could be just about any small dark object that the woman happened to hold near her head. But, as was the case for a "time-traveler" found in a Charlie Chaplin movie, it's possible that the "cell phone" is in fact a device that was available at the time.


When the Chaplin video first circulated in 2010 after a film director appealed for help identifying the device, people pointed out that it could be a device for assisting with hearing, which had been available since 1924.

One user, according to The Mirror, claimed that “the lady you see is my great-grandmother Gertrude Jones," and that she was involved in testing wireless phones created by Dupont. 

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“She was 17 years old. I asked her about this video and she remembers it quite clearly. She says Dupont had a telephone communications section in the factory," the user wrote.

“They were experimenting with wireless telephones. Gertrude and five other women were given these wireless phones to test out for a week". 

Walkie talkies were invented in 1937, and several other devices were in development around this time, making this comment seem reasonably plausible. However, with walkie talkies remaining quite large, even requiring a massive backpack, it's probably more likely that the woman happened to have a small object such as a hearing aid in her hand that she was using, or just a small purse or similar item which she put to her face when dealing with a stray hair or an itch.

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Or, of course, time travel is real and time travelers happen to be fixated on the late 1930s for visiting, and the 2020s for their favorite phone designs.


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