Fact Check: This Video Clip Supposedly Shows a Female 'Time Traveler' Using a Cellphone in 1938. Here's the Backstory

YouTube channel John's Wacky World News
YouTube channel John's Wacky World News


Video captured in 1938 shows a female "time traveler" talking on a cellphone.


Rating: Miscaptioned
Rating: Miscaptioned

Since 2013, a black and white video has circulated online, sparking widespread curiosity among social media users. The footage, purportedly from 1938, shows a woman who appears to be engaging in conversation on a device resembling a cellphone, leading to speculation that she could be a "time traveler."

"Time Traveler in 1938 film caught talking on a cell phone in 1938 comming out of a Dupont Factory in Massachusetts," one description of the video on YouTube read.

"This was filmed in 1938 at the massena new york aluminum company of america plant at the office," another YouTube channel captioned it. "Sorry John, Your info is incorrect. This the the Dupont plant in Leominster, MA in Oct. 1938. The woman is holding a cigarette case," one user commented, while the original poster of the video replied "this was an april fools joke video i made a few years ago for massena that ended up getting lots of views."

The video and "time traveler" claim spread on other social media platforms as well, including Facebook and TikTok.

But while the video itself is demonstrably authentic — that is to say, real and unaltered — the captions on posts suggesting someone in it was using a cellphone decades before the technology existed are false.

The footage truly is from 1938. It was featured in a video titled, "Leominster 1938 Film Supplemental Footage," uploaded in 2017 by the Leominster Access Television YouTube channel (the "cellphone" is visible around the 00:40 mark):

In the video, a woman does briefly seem to be holding a device strikingly similar to a modern cellphone next to her ear, sparking fanciful theories that she was a "time traveler." The video's poor visual quality and lack of sound make it impossible to conclusively determine what the woman was holding or doing at the time of the filming.

Some social media users ventured other explanations that didn't rely on time travel, even citing actual technology available in the 1930s. "It's a Siemens hearing instrument, patented in 1924 or a Western Electric Model 34A Audiphone Carbon Hearing Aid," one YouTube user commented, for instance.

Others simply resorted to different anachronisms, such as the respondent who wrote, "In those days, small portable radios were very common. She's holding it to her ear to hear the program better because they are outside in a crowd. You could also see how she is at the same time in an active conversation with the two women to her left (our right) talking about what they're listening to." In point of fact, small portable radios didn't exist in 1938.

Or the woman in the clip could have been holding a small purse or a cigarette case, some suggested. Additionally, users highlighted that the use of a cellphone in the 1930s would be impossible due to the absence of necessary cellular infrastructure, such as transceiver relay towers.

A 2013 Daily Mail article with the lengthy title, "Is this the world's first cell phone? Film from 1938 shows a woman talking on a wireless device... but it is not 'time travel' family say to the disappointment of conspiracy theorists," informed readers that a YouTube account called Planetcheck claimed the woman in the video was Gertrude Jones, the YouTube user's great-grandmother. The article read:

But in recent days a user called 'planetcheck' has come forward, claiming to have solved the mystery.

Planetcheck said: 'The lady you see is my great grandmother Gertrude Jones.'

'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.'

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

'Gertrude is talking to one of the scientists holding another wireless phone who is off to her right as she walks by.'

So far there has been no independent verification of planetcheck's post, but another YouTube user who says he knows someone else who worked at the factory has vowed to make further inquiries.

However, the user behind Planetcheck remained anonymous and has not provided further evidence to back up the claim. "Although the claims were reported on by a handful of big news outlets, they've never been 100 percent verified, although Planetcheck's version of events seems a whole bunch more plausible than time travel," a UNILAD article on the topic concluded.

We have reached out to Dupont via email and will update this article if/when we receive a response.

We have fact-checked several time travel-related claims in the past. For instance, in December 2022, we investigated viral rumors of a visit from time traveler from the year 2036 that have floated online since 2000. Moreover, in April 2016, we fact-checked a video allegedly showing a time-traveling spectator using a camera phone to take photographs at a Mike Tyson fight back in 1995. In February 2015, we debunked a photograph from the 1940s allegedly showing an obviously out-of-place, time-traveling hipster.


Daily. "Was This the World's First Mobile Phone? 1938 Film Shows Woman Talking on a Wireless Device but It Is Not 'time Travel' Family Say to the Disappointment of Conspiracy Theorists." Mail Online, 31 Mar. 2013, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2301996/Was-worlds-mobile-phone-1938-film-shows-woman-talking-wireless-device-time-travel-family-say-disappointment-conspiracy-theorists.html.

Evon, Dan. "Does a Photograph Capture a Time-Traveling Hipster?" Snopes, 23 Feb. 2015, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/time-traveling-hipster/.

---. "FACT CHECK: Does This Video Capture a Time Traveler at a 1995 Mike Tyson Fight?" Snopes, 30 Apr. 2016, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/mike-tyson-time-traveler/.

Leominster Access Television. It Happened In Leominster - 1938 Film. 2017. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8THwylw5XI.

---. Leominster 1938 Film Supplemental Footage. 2017. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53lZVcX-JRw.

Newsroom. https://www.dupont.com/news.html. Accessed 14 May 2024.

Palma, Bethania. "No, This Isn't a Photo of 'Time Traveler' John Titor in 1941." Snopes, 18 Dec. 2022, https://www.snopes.com//articles/464084/time-traveler-john-titor/.

"Woman Spotted 'chatting on Phone' in 1938 Video That 'Proves Time Travel Exists.'" UNILAD, 2 Nov. 2022, https://www.unilad.com/news/woman-mobile-time-travel-proof-20221102.