Hedy Lamarr, the Beauty behind the Invention of Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth
You've most probably heard of Hedy Lamarr, a beautiful actress who was "the Angelina Jolie of her day."
Not only was Lamarr famous for her movie roles, she was also a self-taught scientist and inventor who conducted experiments in her trailer between shots.
Lamarr was originally from Austria. She was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914. She gained some fame in Austria as an actor, and was married at the young age of 19 to a wealthy Austrian munitions manufacturer who sold arms to the Nazis. The marriage was unhappy, and Lamarr fled her home and emigrated to the U.S. On the ship from London to New York, Lamarr met MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. Despite speaking little English, Lamarr talked Mayer into offering her a lucrative film contract.
Lamarr's beauty was legendary and she socialized with millionaires and politicians. As well as acting, Lamarr also found inventing easy. She often ran experiments in her trailer in between acting takes.
Lamarr was responsible for several advances in communication technology in the 1940s, which would eventually lead to the creation of Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth.
She met composer George Antheil in 1940, and together they came up with and patented the idea frequency hopping, which is a way of jumping around on radio frequencies in order to avoid a third party jamming your signal. During WWII, this was used by the U.S. military to prevent Allied torpedoes from being detected by the Nazis.
In August 1942, Lamarr and Antheil patented the invention and donated it to the military for use in the war effort. Lamarr never received any money for the invention, although her work was publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military. It would later form the basis for the creation of the spread spectrum communications technology used in WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth.
Lamarr’s work as an inventor was not publicized in the 1940s, possibly because the studio was more interested in promoting her as a beauty and felt the fact that she was also brilliant would ruin her image. However, in 1997, she was finally honored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation with a Pioneer Award.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017) was wonderful, though it left me very sad for her. I knew about Lamarr but have only read "Ecstasy and Me" so far, which isn't a great portrait. It was lovely to hear those 1990 interviews. #HedyLamarr #AmericanMastersPBS pic.twitter.com/egFeLHO44H— Jessica Pickens (JP) (@HollywoodComet) May 19, 2018
Alexander Dean, the director and the producer of the documentary about Lamarr called “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" said that she was being recognized and appreciated a little too late, he said, “The film is bittersweet because, at the very end of her life, when she’s very old, she starts to get this incredible recognition … from the Navy, from the Army, from the Air Force … But, unfortunately, at that point, she’d become a recluse. She wasn’t leaving her house. She sent a recording of herself thanking them. So she wasn’t able to stand up and receive this very delayed applause.”
Hedy Lamarr said in 1990, “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think,” making the point that she has always been interested in science and research for its own sake. She was considered as the most beautiful woman of her day; she was said to be the inspiration behind Disney's Snow White and Catwoman. But she was also very much ahead of her time as a feminist, although she was never called that.
Lamarr has once said when asked about her great ideas and the way her brain works, "Inventions are easy for me to do. I don’t have to work on ideas, they come naturally."