Hedy Lamarr: Actress and Inventor

At the height of her Hollywood career, actress Hedy Lamarr was known as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” For most of her life, her legacy was her looks. But in the 1940s — in an attempt to help the war effort — she quietly invented what would become the precursor to many wireless technologies we use today, including Bluetooth, GPS, cellphone networks and more.
Hedy Lamarr was much more than “the most beautiful woman in the world”. The mathematically-minded inventor first learned about military technology from dinner party conversations between her arms-manufacturer husband and Nazi German generals, before escaping to America where she eventually invented a new torpedo guidance system for the U.S. Navy. Lamarr not only learned about the latest submarines and missiles but also the problems with them: notably the challenge of guiding a torpedo by radio, and shielding the signal from enemy interference.
Her insight was that you could protect wireless communication from jamming by varying the frequency at which radio signals were transmitted: if the channel was switched unpredictably, the enemy wouldn’t know which bands to block. But her ingenious “frequency-hopping” idea was just a hunch until Lamarr met fellow amateur inventor George Antheil.
This frequency hopping ability was designed with the idea to be utilised in the US military, allowing them to hide their torpedo’s radio signals from enemy ships. Although Lamarr and Antheil secured a patent for the idea in 1942 and presented the invention to the US Navy, the idea was not adopted during World War II as the inventors had intended. This was not due to the efficiency or feasibility of the idea, but largely to a misunderstanding of how it worked by those reviewing it for military use.
Lamarr approached the National Inventors Council with her frequency-hopping spread-spectrum invention wishing to join and assist the war effort utilising her technical abilities. However, she was advised by members instead to support the cause by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds. As one of the most desirable pin-ups during World War II, Lamarr was able to do this very successfully, although it meant that she was unknown and unaccredited as an inventor until 1997.
Lamarr’s frequency-hopping spread-spectrum invention was finally adopted and implemented on US Navy ships in 1962, by which time the patent had expired and Antheil had died. However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation awarded Lamarr’s contribution to technology in 1997, which finally exposed her to the world as a talented scientist and inventor.
Although intended for military use, Lamarr’s secret communication system actually acts as a basis from many modern communication techniques, making things such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi network connections and the technology used in some telephones possible. Satellite communication is another area where the ability to utilise frequency hopping allows communication to be possible without the threat of messages being infiltrated.
Lamarr should be showcased as an inspiration to all females interested in science and technology and as a woman who refuted the conventional in every aspect of her life.

Hedy Lamarr: Actress and Inventor

At the height of her Hollywood career, actress Hedy Lamarr was known as “the most beautiful woman in the world.” For most of her life, her legacy was her looks. But in the 1940s — in an attempt to help the war effort — she quietly invented what would become the precursor to many wireless technologies we use today, including Bluetooth, GPS, cellphone networks and more.

Hedy Lamarr was much more than “the most beautiful woman in the world”. The mathematically-minded inventor first learned about military technology from dinner party conversations between her arms-manufacturer husband and Nazi German generals, before escaping to America where she eventually invented a new torpedo guidance system for the U.S. Navy. Lamarr not only learned about the latest submarines and missiles but also the problems with them: notably the challenge of guiding a torpedo by radio, and shielding the signal from enemy interference.

Her insight was that you could protect wireless communication from jamming by varying the frequency at which radio signals were transmitted: if the channel was switched unpredictably, the enemy wouldn’t know which bands to block. But her ingenious “frequency-hopping” idea was just a hunch until Lamarr met fellow amateur inventor George Antheil.

This frequency hopping ability was designed with the idea to be utilised in the US military, allowing them to hide their torpedo’s radio signals from enemy ships. Although Lamarr and Antheil secured a patent for the idea in 1942 and presented the invention to the US Navy, the idea was not adopted during World War II as the inventors had intended. This was not due to the efficiency or feasibility of the idea, but largely to a misunderstanding of how it worked by those reviewing it for military use.

Lamarr approached the National Inventors Council with her frequency-hopping spread-spectrum invention wishing to join and assist the war effort utilising her technical abilities. However, she was advised by members instead to support the cause by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds. As one of the most desirable pin-ups during World War II, Lamarr was able to do this very successfully, although it meant that she was unknown and unaccredited as an inventor until 1997.

Lamarr’s frequency-hopping spread-spectrum invention was finally adopted and implemented on US Navy ships in 1962, by which time the patent had expired and Antheil had died. However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation awarded Lamarr’s contribution to technology in 1997, which finally exposed her to the world as a talented scientist and inventor.

Although intended for military use, Lamarr’s secret communication system actually acts as a basis from many modern communication techniques, making things such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi network connections and the technology used in some telephones possible. Satellite communication is another area where the ability to utilise frequency hopping allows communication to be possible without the threat of messages being infiltrated.

Lamarr should be showcased as an inspiration to all females interested in science and technology and as a woman who refuted the conventional in every aspect of her life.


Posted 11 months ago with 2,544 notes
Tagged:Hedy Lamarrsciencescientistwomen in sciencefrequency hoppingGeorge Antheiltechnologyinventor

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