Hedy Lamarr – beauty & brain behind the innovation of wi-fi

Hedy Lamar

The most beautiful woman in the world – a portrait

During her lifetime Hedy Lamarr was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. She was one of the biggest Hollywood stars, an icon of the 30s and 40s. She led a life with numerous love affairs and full of scandals. Yet she was so much more than glamour and beauty. Secretly, Hedy Lamarr was a gifted inventor and paved the way for Wi-fi, GPS and Bluetooth. Her story revolves around a scandal that outraged the Pope, torpedoes in World War II and a lifetime of being reduced to her looks.

Hedy Lamarr, Source: Pinterest

Hedy Lamarr outraged the pope

Hedy Lamar’s actual name was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, she was born in Vienna, Austria in 1914 as the daughter of a Jewish family. She attended an acting school and had her breakthrough early. In 1932, at just 18 years, she starred in the Czech film Extasy. It was the first non-pornographic film ever to feature a female orgasm. It was a huge scandal at the time. Pope Pius the 11th strongly condemned the film. The US-American cinemas didn’t broadcast the original version of the film, because it was too obscene. The film made Hedwig Kiesler a star.

Ecstasy poster, source: posteriti

Technology to combat Nazis

Hedy Lamarr married Fritz Mandl, an arms manufacturer, the third richest man in the country and a fascist sympathiser. In 1937 Kiesler fled the marriage, first to Paris and then to London. There she gave herself a new name, Hedy Lamarr in reference to the silent film actress Barbara La Marr. In the following years, she moved to the USA and became one of the biggest superstars of her time. 

Hedy Lamarr was also an extremely clever and talented inventor. During her career in Hollywood, she invented all kinds of things in her spare time, such as an improved traffic light system. Lamarr was also a convinced opponent of the Nazis. When World War II broke out, she learned about radio-controlled torpedoes, an emerging technology in naval warfare. Unfortunately, these remote-controlled torpedoes could very easily be blown off course if enemies interrupted the signal.

Wireless communication

This gave Lamarr an idea. She teamed up with the famous composer George Antheil. Together they developed a frequency hopping method based on the way pianos work. They were not the first to come up with this idea. Nikola Tesla published a similar approach in 1903. You split a signal into many channels and then pseudo-randomly jump back and forth between these channels. Only the transmitter and the receiver know the combination of the jumps and can change the channel with the signal. This way, communication can hardly be disturbed because the individual channels are only used for a very short time.

Frequency hopping, source: interesting engineering

In 1941, they applied for a patent for the technology. However, the US Navy did not use this system. When the frequency hopping method finally became widespread decades later, the patent had expired and the two inventors did not receive a cent. Yet the method is a cornerstone of Bluetooth, Wi-fi and GPS technologies. It was not until 1997 that Hedy Lamarr received a Pioneer Award for her invention. Three years later, she died at the age of 85. 14 years after her death, the national inventor’s hall of fame inducted Hedy Lamarr for her contribution to the development of wireless communication. 

No recognition of her skills, only of her appearance

During her lifetime, she never got recognition for being an inventor, only for a stunningly beautiful face. As an exotic diva. In 1969 she was a guest on a talk show. One of her very few interviews. The questions the moderators asked her are so terribly superficial. I can’t help to wonder how amazing and fascinating her answers about her fascinating life story would have been if someone had asked her the right questions in that studio. Instead, they were joking about how attractive she was and about that one time, she was naked in a movie 30 years ago when she was almost a child.

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