Actress Hedy Lamarr (Hedy Kiesler Markey) became friends with avant-garde composer George Antheil in 1940. Lamarr, while working in Hollywood as an actress, had numerous other interests. Quite quickly, their conversations turned to more technical matters, specifically torpedoes.
Together they made an odd pair of weapons developers, but their backgrounds were full of experiences that provided inspiration for their innovations. At 19, Lamarr had married Friedrich Mandl, a munitions manufacturer, from whom she was forced to flee in 1937, but from whom she serendipitously learned a lot about various weapons technology, including torpedo control systems. Antheil was familiar with remote control technology and spread spectrum sequences that he had used in his avant-garde compositions and performances. Together, they developed their frequency hopping communications system.
In August 1942, they were granted a patent for a “Secret Communication System” that would reduce the danger of detection or jamming for radio-controlled torpedoes. Subsequent patents in frequency changing have referred to the Lamarr-Antheil patent as the basis of the field, and the concept lies behind the principal anti-jamming devices used today. Neither Lamarr nor Antheil ever received royalty payments for the commercialization of their patent.
Hedy Lamarr Biography. (n.d) retrieved March 12, 2014, from Hedy Lamarr, the official site Web Site. http://www.hedylamarr.com/
Hedy Lamarr . (n.d) retrieved March 12, 2014, from Library of Congress Web Site: http://www.loc.gov/search/?q=Hedy+Lamarr
NPR Staff (2011, Nov. 22,). ‘Most Beautiful Woman’ By Day, Inventor By Night. retrieved March 12, 2014, from NPR.org Web Site: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/27/142664182/most-beautiful-woman-by-day-inventor-by-night
Inventor of The Week Archive: Hedy Lamarr. (n.d) retrieved March 12, 2014, from Lemelson-MIT Web Site: http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/lamarr.html
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The only child of Gertrud, a former pianist, and Emil, a Viennese Jewish bank manager, Markey grew up in Vienna, Austria and starred in her first film at the age of 17.
She became an American citizen in 1953. She married six times and had three children. Her oldest son James was adopted in the late 1930s during her marriage to author Gene Markey. Her other children, Anthony and Denise, were born from her marriage to English actor, John Loder.
Lamarr’s idea for frequency hopping was an attempt to help the Allied war effort. Her invention is the precursor of several wireless technologies used today, including cellular networks, GPS and Bluetooth.
Antheil and Lamarr submitted the “frequency hopping” device idea to the National Inventors Council, a semi-military inventors’ association, in December of 1940. The duo filed for a patent for the “Secret Communication System” on June 10, 1941, earned their patent on August 11, 1942 and immediately made their patent available to the US Military. Although their invention was not used during World War II, the U.S. Navy did commission a project to detect submarines using sonar buoys remote-controlled from airplanes in the 1950s, which employed the idea of frequency hopping.
Their invention was later used in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis to provide for secure communications among ships involved in the naval blockade. Reconnaissance drones deployed in Vietnam in the 1960s also used technology that employed frequency hopping techniques. Starting in the 1980s their ideas took on a new meaning. Frequency hopping is very similar to the idea known today as “spread spectrum,” and allows for secure cellular communication.
Frequency hopping was not officially implemented by the War Department until 1962. By then the patent had expired and the rights were in the public domain, so neither Lamarr nor Antheil ever profited from their patent.
According to historians, in the 1990s, Lamarr and Antheil’s work was rediscovered by a pioneer of wireless communications and realized they had never been honored for their work. Lamarr, who by that point avoided public appearances, was contacted by phone and, according to sources, acknowledged the honor with the words, “Well, it’s about time.” In 1997, Lamarr, represented by her son Anthony Loder, received the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for her contributions to spread-spectrum technology.
After Lamarr stopped acting, she became reclusive and would only talk to her children and friends over the phone. She was known to have said “after a taste of stardom, everything else is poverty.” She died in Florida on Jan. 19, 2000 and at her request, her son Anthony, took her ashes to the Vienna woods.
According to Richard Rhodes, author of Hedy’s Folly, Lamarr had a drafting table installed in her house to foster her inventions. Some of her working projects included creating an improved stoplight and a tablet that, when dissolved in water, produced a Coca-Cola-like carbonated drink.
No formal science education. Since the age of four, Lamarr received private language, ballet and piano lessons and was taught sports, music and arts.
BEST KNOWN FOR:
Lamarr was widely known as “the most beautiful woman in the world” and as an actress. Her films include Samson and Delilah, My Favorite Spy and The Story of Mankind. It wasn’t until the 1990s that she became recognized for her inventive side and for co-inventing the “Frequency Hopping Technique” with George Antheil.
“The world isn’t getting any easier. With all these new inventions I believe that people are hurried more and pushed more…The hurried way is not the right way; you need time for everything – time to work, time to play, time to rest.” From Hedy Lamarr, the official site.
SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE:
Lamarr, Hedy (1967). Ecstasy and Me: My life as a Woman. Fawcett Crest Book.
Rhodes, Richard (2011). Hedy’s Folly:The life and breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World . New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Shearer, Stephen Michael (2010). Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Barton, Ruth (2012). Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.
Occupation: Actress, Inventor
Born: November 9, 1913 in Vienna, Austria
Died: January 19, 2000