Hedy Lamarr – Military Contractor, Inventor of Wifi, Hollywood Bombshell 1913-2000

Cross-posted from: Women Rock Science
Originally published: 27.05.13

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Before the age of 20 Austrian Hedy Lamarr had left school, become a famous actress, married a Nazi arms manufacturer and become the first actress to simulate an orgasm on screen. Ten years later she defected to the side of allies where she invented and sold a communication technology to the US Navy that is still used by the entire US military to this day as well as in Wifi, GPS, Bluetooth and almost every single modern communication device.

Her husband was a abusive and controlling and 30 years her senior and had her watched at all times. After 10 years of suffering she drugged the person tasked with watching her and escaped to London. There she restarted her movie career, moving onto Hollywood and became dubbed as the most beautiful woman in film.

In Hollywood she met a pianist called George Antheil and together they colluded to find a way to stop Hitler and the Nazi’s. The Eureka moment came when during a conversation she realised they were communicating and changing frequency all the time.  Together they developed a new communication system known as frequency hopping. In frequency hopping Radio signals are rapidly switching carriers among many frequency channels in a sequence that appears random but is known to the transmitter and receiver.

Lamarr and Antheil wanted this radio transmitting technique to be used in deploying a new type of Torpedo. Traditional torpedoes are steered towards their targets by radio signals. These radio signals can easily be jammed by the enemy. With frequency hopping it is much harder to near impossible for the enemy to jam the transmitted signal as they do not have the frequency hopping sequence. Lamarr and Antheil patented their new invention and sold it to the US Navy. The Military did not take the invention seriously and thought it would be too bulky it sat in a drawer unused and forgotten about.

Many years later in 1957 the patent had run out. Engineers uncovered the files on Lamarr and Antheil’s device and called it spread spectrum. This time the US Military was ready to listen and it was employed in the torpedoes during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Spread spectrum is used as the basis of many communication schemes including Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS and the US governments current $25 billion Milstar system that controls all of the US’s intercontinental missiles. Lamarr and Antheil got no money from this at all.

Lamarr tried to join the National Inventors Council but was told by member Charles F Kettering (inventor of two of the most seriously polluting now banned by the UN inventions, leaded petrol and CFC fridges) that she would be better served using her celebrity status to raise money for war bonds. She was one of the best fundraisers and even managed to raise $7 million in just one day, the equivalent of $70 million in today’s money.

 

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