Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

HEDY LAMARR

Inventor and movie star Hedy Lamarr was born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna in 1914.  She attended acting school and made her acting debut in 1930.  In 1937, Louis B. Mayor of MGM hired her and changed her name to Hedy Lamarr.  In addition to a tremendous acting career in Hollywood, which made her one of the most successful actresses of the ‘30's and ‘40's and lasted until 1990, when she was 76 years old, Lamarr was an inventor.

In 1942, Lamarr and American composer George Antheil devised a plan to help the war effort during World War II. They developed a sophisticated, anti-jamming device for use in radio-controlled torpedoes. This method of radio “frequency hopping” could prevent enemy spies from intercepting the U.S. Military’s messages.  They received a patent for it, Patent Number 2,292,387.  Their invention turned out to be more useful in later military tactics after World War II, particularly during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when it was installed on ships as part of a blockade on Cuba.  Their patent expired in 1960 though and so they received none of the profits and little recognition.  Since the 1960's, the method has been used extensively in military communications.

Not only is the same technology used today in the U.S. defense communication satellite system, but it also enables the mass use of cellular phones, faxes, and other wireless communication. Companies can accommodate hundreds of thousands of calls by switching callers between different frequencies.

In the 1990's, Lamarr and Antheil garnered the recognition they deserved for their invention.  They received awards like the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the BULBIEª Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, given to individuals whose creative lifetime achievements in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields have significantly contributed to society.  Lamarr was the first woman to receive the BULBIEª. 

Lamarr proved that beautiful women also are intelligent, crashing stereotypes that many people hold.  She invented a technology that enables some of the most popular modes of communication today.  She died in 2000.


Additional Resources:

Books:

 

  • Walter, Rob.  Spread Spectrum: Hedy Lamarr and the mobile phone
  • Young, Christopher. The Films of Hedy Lamarr. Secaucus, NJ, 1978.

Works Cited: