L is for Hedy Lamarr

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 22 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Hedy Lamarr was one of the great Hollywood stars of the 1930s and 1940s but behind the glamour, she led a secret life as the inventor of the technology that we now use in wi-fi and Bluetooth.

Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna in 1914, the daughter of a successful bank director.

She began her acting career in Europe, both on stage and on film, and married a much older military arms merchant and munitions manufacturer. He was an extremely controlling husband and Lamarr left him and ran away to Paris in 1937 where she met Louis B Mayer.

It was Mayer who persuaded her to change her name to Hedy Lamarr (after the silent film actress Barbara La Marr) and began a Hollywood career in which she starred in more than twenty films.

But away from the screen, Lamarr was what you might describe as a tinkerer and came up with various inventions including an improved traffic light and a tablet that turned water into a carbonated drink.

She dated the tycoon Howard Hughes who actively encouraged her inventiveness and put a team of engineers at her disposal who would make anything she asked for.

Lamarr came up with changes in the wing shape to make them more efficient
Hughes was looking for ways to improve his aircraft design to make them fly faster and it was Lamarr who came up with changes in the wing shape to make them more efficient after studying the aerodynamics of birds and fish.

It was during World War Two that Lamarr devised her most significant scientific contribution. She learned that the signal for radio-controlled torpedoes could be jammed, causing them to go off course, and came up with the idea of a frequency-hopping signal that could be neither tracked nor jammed.

She developed the idea with the help of her friend, the composer and pianist George Antheil, and they succeeded in creating a device that synchronised radio signals with a miniaturised player-piano mechanism.

The ‘Secret Communication System’ was granted a patent in 1942 but the technology was difficult to implement at that time and it wasn’t until the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 that an updated design of the device saw service on naval ships.

The spread-spectrum technology that Lamarr and Antheil devised contributed greatly to the development of GPS, wi-fi and Bluetooth and in 1997 they received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award.

Lamarr died in 2000 but in 2014 she was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and in 2017 a documentary film of her secret life was released and you can see the trailer below.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

7 comments… Add yours
  • Anita 28th March 2018

    Such a talented actress!
    Yes, I had read about her story. We thank her for her contribution for WiFi.
    Glad that the world recognizes her invention.

    Reply
  • ABC Wednesday 28th March 2018

    indeed well known person, to me too, what a surpise this time 😉
    One of The Netherlands newest Theatres is named after her. (Amsterdam)

    Have a splendid, ♥-warming ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♪ (ABC-W-team)
    http://melodymusic.nl/22-l

    Reply
  • Roger O Green 28th March 2018

    I’d heard of her exploits. But she did have trouble being taken seriously, which I suspect happens often.

    Reply
  • cat eye frames 29th March 2018

    Nice article, thank you for the sharing

    Reply
  • Yorkshire Pudding 29th March 2018

    Lamarr had six husbands. When they were exhausted she spat them out and got another one. Perhaps she should have invented a husband machine instead.

    Reply
    • Trevor Rowley 29th March 2018

      So, Hedy Lamarr collected husbands. I used to collect football programmes but they started to take up too much room. Perhaps the husbands were making the place look untidy. Each to his own, I suppose.

      Reply
  • A ShutterBug Explores 29th March 2018

    Great article and lovely photos of Lemarr ~

    Happy Days,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

    Reply

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