The only child of an Austrian bank-director father and a classically trained pianist mother, Hedy Lamarr enjoyed a successful early career in Post WW1 Austrian theatre and film. She escaped an unhappy marriage to a Nazi sympathizer, and was brought to the US in 1937 by film mogul Louis B Mayer, who named her “The World’s Most Beautiful Woman”. Her career spanned more than 30 movies made over nearly three decades.
Bored with her declining career, Hedy turned her attention to applied sciences. With the help of composer George Antheil, she designed a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedoes creating technology they later patented.
Lived: 1913 - 2000 (Austria, U.S.A.)
Why She Matters
Hedy’s development of spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology aided the US Navy’s WW2 efforts and principals of her work are incorporated into modern GPS, WI-FI, CDMA (cell phone), and Bluetooth technology.
Early inventions included an improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that created a carbonated drink when dissolved in water (that unfortunately tasted like Alka-Seltzer)
During WW2, Lamarr wanted to do more to aid the war effort than capitalize on her celebrity and beauty, where she was relegated to selling war bonds
She realized that radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed, causing the torpedo to go off course
Working with composer George Antheil, Lamarr’s Frequency-Hopping system for torpedo guidance was inspired by the way piano rolls work, and continually changed the radio signals sent to the torpedo, making it harder to disrupt its navigation
Their invention was patented in August of 1942, but was technologically difficult to implement
The US Navy was not receptive to inventions coming from outside the military at the time, so military adoption was delayed until after the patent had expired
In 1962, an updated version was used at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Lamarr and Antheil received numerous awards, and in 2014 both were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame
An Off-Broadway play, Frequency Hopping, features the lives of Lamarr and Antheil. The play was written and staged by Elyse Singer in 2008, and the script won a prize for best new play about science and technology from STAGE
Leaving a Legacy
YouTube.com, (Google Doodle from 09-Nov-2015)
While under-utilized in her lifetime, the foundational technology created by Lamarr is now a component of the spread-spectrum communication systems that deliver of our modern GPS, Wi-Fi, CDMA (cell phone) and Bluetooth services.