I believe it's accurate to claim that the internet has altered the course of history. Consider using the internet without Wi-Fi for a moment. Yes, we did back when there was "dial-up," but it seems like a very long time ago. If some very smart people hadn't used their intelligence and inventiveness, this amazing innovation might never have been made.
You may be familiar with well-known figures like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but did you know that one remarkable woman made significant contributions to the growth of the internet and the tech industry? She also wasn't a well-known scientist or Nobel Prize recipient. Hedy Lamarr was a well-known Hollywood actress. The actress also led a very interesting life, contributing to the development of one of history's most significant inventions.
Who Was This Famous Hollywood Actress and her inventions?
Hedy Lamarr was an Austrian-American actress who also worked as an inventor on the side. She was renowned for her gorgeous beauty and superb acting abilities, but she was in no way just a lovely face. The actress was a great person as well. Now who was this famous Hollywood actress?
Like so many Hollywood celebrities, Lamarr made the decision to change her name in order to fit the "mould" of Hollywood. She was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler at birth. Since many of the celebrities at the time were of European descent and the general people didn't really like names with German roots, it was common for stars to go by new names. Lamarr was born in the lovely city of Vienna, Austria, in 1914.
Hedy Lamarr, an Austrian-born actress most renowned for her seductive performances in the 1930s and 1940s, struggled with her beautiful features throughout her life. She served as the model for the iconic cartoon beauties Snow White and Catwoman thanks to her unrivaled beauty, and in the 1940s, more patients seeking plastic surgery wanted her profile than any other. She would frequently assert that aesthetics weren't important to her, yet later in life, she herself underwent repeated plastic surgery. She could not bear to lose her youthful attractiveness.
A recent addition to the National Portrait Gallery honoring the actress beautifully captures that beauty. Conspiratori, her World War II picture, was promoted with this Italian poster (The Conspirators). Her appearance embodies the appeal that made her the "most beautiful lady in the world."
But Hedy Lamarr was much more than just her lovely dark hair, transparent fair complexion, and brilliant green eyes. She was a brilliant innovator who laid the seed for some of today's most pervasive technology, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, cordless phones, and cell phones. Her innovations came from a convoluted existence that was full of ambiguities and elusive realities and was not like the movie star she appeared to be.
When Lamarr took apart and put back together a music box at the age of 5, she sparked an interest in inventing that she never lost. She collaborated on her inventions with a strange composer named George Antheil. They collaborated primarily behind closed doors, and because Lamarr's autobiography, which was ghostwritten, omits any mention of her innovations, more information about how she approached her job is woefully lacking. Carmelo "Nino" Amarena, an inventor, recalls
conversing with Lamarr in 1997. Amarena remarked, "We conversed like two engineers working on a hot project. I always felt like I was speaking to a fellow innovator rather than a movie star.
In the early stages of World War II, Lamarr made a significant discovery while working on a device to prevent opposing ships from jamming torpedo guidance signals. Nobody knows what inspired the concept, but Antheil acknowledged that Lamarr's design was used as the basis for his practical model. They devised a method for the radio guidance transmitter and torpedo's receiver to switch frequencies at the same time, rendering it difficult for the adversary to track and intercept a message before it changed frequencies. This strategy was dubbed "frequency hopping."
But when Lamarr and Antheil presented their invention to the United States Navy engineers rejected it because they felt it was too complicated. A contractor hired by the Navy to develop a sonobuoy that could be thrown into the water from an airplane to detect submarines was given Lamarr's idea in the middle of the 1950s, when lightweight transistors were becoming more readily available. Over time, that contractor and others have used Lamarr's design as a launching pad for more ambitious concepts. Despite the fact that Lamarr and Antheil's patent didn't expire until 1959, they were never paid for the use of their idea. All American ships on a blockade line around Cuba in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 were armed with torpedoes that were guided by a "frequency-hopping" mechanism.
Lamarr, who was raised in Vienna in an assimilated Jewish family, would eventually conceal her heritage, even to her own kids. She often expressed contempt for the Nazis, some of whom had dined at her table when she was married to an Austrian munitions manufacturer, Fritz Mandl, according to Antheil's memoir, Bad Boy of Music, who claims that she initiated their effort to develop weapons for the Allies because "she did not feel comfortable sitting there in Hollywood and making lots of money when things were in such a state." She recalled that the Germans and other prospective buyers had discussed secret weaponry at her house, however it is not known if she had heard these discussions. Benito Mussolini, the head of the Italian Fascist movement, was one among those who entered her house.
She later claimed that Adolf Hitler had dinner at her home, but her biographers do not accept this claim because she and her husband were both Jews, and as a result, lower-ranking Nazis visited them at home rather than meeting in a more open location. She claimed that her spouse frequently sought her advice on new weapons, and it's probable that their discussions inspired her to start designing her own guns. Some have claimed that she plagiarized Mandl or one of his guests by using the concept of "frequency hopping," but she has denied this and no German weapons have ever employed the concept.
Lamarr passed away in January 2000 at the age of 85, but even as she approached death, she continued to create items, including a bright dog collar, upgrades for the Concorde jet, and a new style of stoplight. She would be happy with the legacy of her "frequency hopping" idea, according to her son Anthony Loder, who said this after her passing: "She would love to be remembered as someone who contributed to the well-being of humankind."