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Hedy Lamarr

You may be reading this article on your iPhone or Android – technology which is an increasingly important part of our daily lives. But without glamorous 1940’s movie star Hedy Lamarr, the technology may never have been developed. Hedy co-invented and then patented the idea that later led to systems we use today to operate our mobile phones, Bluetooth and Wifi.

She was born in Austria in 1913 and at 19 years of age she married one of the country’s richest men, Friedrich Mandl, a munitions manufacturer. During this time she was privy to meetings with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. She found an interest and talent for applied science that later led to her invention, and patent, for a secret communications system.

After four years in what she described as a controlling marriage where she was confined to their castle home, Hedy devised a way to leave Mandl. In her autobiography she wrote that she needed to disguise herself as her own maid in order to leave the home and flee to Paris.

Hedy soon left Paris for Hollywood and became an exotic screen siren featuring in movies such as Ziegfield Girl with Lana Turner and Judy Garland, Cargo Town and Sampson and Delilah. She acted opposite Hollywood’s biggest leading men including Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Victor Mature.

Her major scientific idea was formed in 1941 at the height of her fame. She devised a ‘frequency hopping’ technique which would make radio guided torpedos harder for the enemy to detect. But Lamarr’s invention was well ahead of its time and the idea was not implemented by the US military until 1962. In addition to military applications, Hedy’s patent is also the basis behind our modern spread-spectrum technology – the technology behind mobile phones.

Lamarr had a busy life between her movies, scientific work, six marriages and three children. Her autobiography is titled “Ecstasy and Me” which is due to the fact she is credited with the first acting of a female orgasm on screen, in the 1933 film Ecstasy.  The book is available on Amazon.

 

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