Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
Better known for her Silver Screen exploits, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) also became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in World War II and win the Cuban missile Crisis. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.(1)
This “spread spectrum” system became the backbone of current wireless technology. Anthiel and Lamarr received a patent for the technology in 1941, and while Lamarr received little recognition for her efforts at the time, her status as a pioneer was acknowledged over 50 years after her patent.(2) Unfortunately, Hedy had lost herself by then – her confidence, her value, her worth!
She possessed the kind of beauty that was haunting – an almost smoldering sensuality, with an exotic accent to match. She was once dubbed “the most beautiful woman in the world.”
“The boys abroad, during the Second World War, voted her the most desirable, beautiful actress or pinup that they could possibly see,” said writer Richard Rhodes. “She had a great deal of fame and fortune, but not that inner satisfaction that she wanted in life.”
Born to Jewish parents in Austria, the war in Europe was never far from her mind. It was Hedy’s idea for a secret communications system – specifically one that could guide a torpedo using a technology called “frequency hopping” – so that signal couldn’t be intercepted.
“She set aside one room in her home, had a drafting table installed with the proper lighting, and the proper tools – had a whole wall in the room of engineering reference books.” That, Rhodes said, was where she “invented.“
Hedy thought if pianos could be synchronized to hop from one note to another, why couldn’t radio signals – steering a torpedo – hop as well? She found a partner in George Anthiel, a Hollywood composer who also had a passion for inventing new technologies.
“Hedy’s idea was if you could make both the transmitter and the receiver simultaneously jump from frequency to frequency, then someone trying to jam the signal wouldn’t know where it was,” said Rhodes.
Experts who reviewed the concept then felt it was viable however when she presented this to the US Navy, they put it on the back shelf. The Navy’s response to her proposal was, “You should go raise money for the war. That’s what you should be doing instead of this silly inventing.”
So Hedy did precisely that, using her celebrity to raise millions in war bonds – dismissed again for her brains in favor of her beauty.
And she watched in silence as other “frequency hopping” inventors took the technology to heights Hedy never could have imagined.
“Today, frequency hopping is used with the wireless phones that we have in our homes, GPS, most military communication systems – it’s very widely used,” said Rhodes.
But it was those building on her idea who got the credit. Hedy had quietly signed her patent over to the Navy, and left it at that. She gave the technology away, and never made a dime off of it.
Hedy died alone in Florida at the age of 86. Her obituaries began with what everyone already knew, her beauty, and made only glancing references to the invention she had hoped would prove her mind was beautiful, too.(3)
So while you read this post navigating through the World Wide Web over your Wifi connections at home, in the office, at Wifi Hotspots; remember the lady who made this possible and revolutionized the way we all connect and communicate!
Hedy Lamarr – Lady of Beauty and Immense Brains – A potential lost within Gender Stereotype!
Richard Rhodes is the author of ‘Hedy’s Folly – The Life and Breakthrough inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The most beautiful woman in the world’
Update: It’s time…
November 2017: Hedy Lamarr starred in biblical blockbusters. Now a Susan Sarandon-produced film will tell how her scientific work pioneered modern communications.
Excerpt: Until now, Lamarr’s part in the development of what she called “frequency hopping”, a way to avoid the German jamming of radio signals, has remained an obscure bit of Hollywood trivia. However, as the Los Angeles film industry is shaken by accusations of in-built sexism in the wake of revelations about producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuses, Sarandon and the German film actress Diane Kruger, a fan of Lamarr who appears in the documentary, believe her hidden scientific talent will finally be recognised.
Dean told Vanity Fair this year that Lamarr opens the tapes by saying: “I wanted to sell my story … because it’s so unbelievable. It was the opposite of what people think.” Lamarr also complains about Hollywood’s obsession with appearances, which she found dull: “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think.”
4. Feature image – http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/11/remembering-hedy-lamarr-the-hollywood-star-who-helped-make-wi-fi/