Who was Hedy Lamarr? In the heyday of Old Hollywood, she was one of the most beautiful women in the world. Hedy Lamarr movies were as popular as they were successful. Her breathtaking looks packed theaters across the country, but there was much more to this starlet than what met the eye.
A more in-depth look at Lamarr's biography quickly reveals her as a forward-thinking genius whose intelligence went unappreciated in her lifetime. Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1914, Lamarr escaped her homeland in the 1930s, setting out for a dazzling career in Hollywood. The public, more preoccupied with her looks than brains, had no idea one of Hollywood's leading ladies was, in fact, a groundbreaking inventor.
Though Lamarr passed away in 2000, the impact of her scientific breakthroughs is finally giving her the credit she so long deserved. One of her contributions is the system used to develop wireless technology. In other words, WiFi might not exist if it weren’t for this Hollywood starlet.
Though Hollywood played a valuable part in supporting the Allies in the war effort through war bond drives and United Service Organizations (USO) shows, Hedy Lamarr felt she could do more. So in 1940, Lamarr enlisted the help of George Antheil, a composer, to help develop her idea for a new frequency-hopping system capable of guiding and protecting American torpedoes underwater. Lamarr realized if a radio signal traveled across constantly changing radio frequencies, it could circumvent jamming and make it easier to guide torpedoes in unfriendly waters.
Unfortunately, the US Navy decided not to use Lamarr and Antheil's invention at the time, filing away their patent as top secret. Decades later, though, Lamarr and Antheil's frequency-hopping technique would become essential in the development of cell phones, WiFi, and Bluetooth.
Hedy Lamarr's education reflected her social standing, as she was born into an affluent Viennese family in the early 20th century. She had private tutors before attending finishing school. However, a life of acting seemed too irresistible for the confident teenager, and she left school at the age of 16 to pursue a career on the stage and screen.
In other words, Lamarr never received a college education or any advanced training in science and engineering. She was entirely self-taught, which makes her inventions all the more astonishing.
Hedy Lamarr was born into a cultured family in the heyday of Viennese intellectualism - her father was a successful banker, and her mother a concert pianist. Lamarr's birth city nurtured the genius of neurologist Sigmund Freud and artist Gustav Klimt, among many others. Hollywood proved pretty dull for a mind as bright and inquisitive as Lamarr's.
As a result, Lamarr admired thinkers and artists in Hollywood, even counting photographer Man Ray as a frequent chess partner. Because of her boredom with Hollywood life, Lamarr turned to exciting projects and put her many intellectual gifts to good use by inventing.
Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil received an official patent for their invention on August 11, 1942. Unfortunately, their project didn't see action during World War II. In fact, it would take 20 more years until Lamarr and Antheil's invention fulfilled its intended purpose.
In 1962, the US found itself in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Soviet Union sent a convoy of missiles to Cuba. In response, President John F. Kennedy instituted a naval blockade of Cuba - the ships were all outfitted with the technology Lamarr and Antheil developed for World War II and gave to the US Navy. Unfortunately for the unsung inventors, 20 years was enough time for their original patent to expire, so neither Lamarr nor Antheil received any credit or monetary compensation.