HEDY LAMARR: FROM HOLLYWOOD GLAM GIRL TO MOTHER OF WI-FI

As a progressive, independent telecommunications service provider, we are always interested in people who display a passion for innovation. When we first read about Hedy Lamarr, we could not believe that we had never heard of this woman and were fascinated by her life story, her beauty and most of all, her innovative spirit. Here is the amazing story of Hedy Lamarr, the Mother of Wi-Fi.

 

Where the Story Began

Hedy Lamarr was born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. In 1933, she appeared in the controversial Czechoslovakian film Ecstasy, which was banned for it’s risqué love making scene, but showed the world that she was unafraid to take risks

Lamarr then married a wealthy man, who also happened to be an arms dealer in Vienna, with ties to fascists in Germany and Italy. Hedy gave up acting to preside over her husband’s lavish parties, where it’s believed she acquired a great deal of knowledge about military technology, most notably about guided torpedoes and their vulnerability to jamming and interference.

Unhappy with married life, especially her husband’s controlling nature and his dealings with Nazi industrialists, Lamarr disguised herself as one of her maids and escaped to Paris in 1937, just before the onset of World War II.  In London following her divorce, she met Louis B. Mayer, who signed her to MGM studios under a new pseudonym: Hedy Lamarr.

 

Double Identity

Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s, Lamarr was widely regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world. She acted alongside A-list actors such as Clark Gable and Judy Garland in many films including Algiers, Tortilla Flat, Samson and Delilah and White Cargo.

gable and lamarrLamarr actor Clark Gable. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Hedy Lamarr)

But as a mechanically minded, self-taught inventor who had taken apart and reassembled her own music box at the age of 5, Lamarr became bored and frustrated by the limitations put on her because of her image as a Hollywood glamour girl, and actively sought opportunities to showcase her innate gifts.

“Any girl can be glamorous,” she once said. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”.

She eventually found a new outlet through the famously eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, who enabled her to spread her innovation wings. Hughes set Lamarr up in a workshop, where she tinkered away in between film shoots and eventually suggested improvements to his airplane designs.

Lamarr didn’t have any formal scientific training but proved to be a prolific inventor who was most invigorated by the many influential and intelligent people she met at parties and dinners. The most notable being avant-garde composer, pianist and author George Antheil,  with whom she would co-invent her crowning achievement.

 

The “Secret Communication System”

In 1942, Lamarr and Antheil patented the “Secret Communication System” (also know as the frequency-hopping spread spectrum).

lamarr patent

The two inventors adapted the inner mechanism of a player-piano into a system that efficiently guided and transported data wirelessly and enabled frequencies to jump from one source to another without being tracked or jammed. Its original purpose was to help the US military send radio-guided torpedoes in World War II through a system that used rolls of perforated paper to quickly switch between frequencies.

After being granted the patent for the device in 1942, the Navy rejected it’s use.  Lamarr’s insecurities about not being taken seriously as an inventor were confirmed when they put her to work selling war bonds and entertaining troops instead of using her invention.

hedy-lamarr-inventor

After the patent expired decades later, a version of the original design was used in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was worked  into practically all modern wireless communications technology, such as such as modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Since the patent had expired, Antheil and Lamarr never profited financially from their revolutionary work, but were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

 

In conclusion

Lamarr continued to act in various films until 1989, until finally becoming a recluse. Bombshell, a documentary about her life that was released in November, 2017, may now bring her amazing story and talents into the spotlight for a new generation to appreciate. So, the next time you’re connected to Distributel High Speed Internet and enjoying the convenience of Wi-Fi, think for a moment about Hedy Lamarr- the Mother of Wi-Fi.

 

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Celebrating 30 years of experience providing telecommunications services to Canadians, Distributel offers a unique consultative approach to the services we offer. With an unwavering commitment to fairness, simplicity and innovation, Distributel offers the best overall value in the industry.

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