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Hedy Lamarr – A Renaissance Woman. Happy National Woman’s Month

Hedy Lamarr was a Hollywood icon of her day. Her inventions and ideas proved important in the development of several essential pieces of modern technology such as Bluetooth and WIFI.

Lamarr was born in Austria in 1913. Her father was the director of The Bank Of Vienna and and her mother was a professional concert pianist.

Her movie career began in Austria in 1930, and by 1937 she had a contract with MGM studio for $500 a week.

Here is where I can get into her film career, but I won’t.  Lets just say that she was a beautiful screen scarlet who made movies throughout the 40’s with some big name actors of the time.  She was in the gossip columns, dating various movie stars.  She was romantically involved with Charlie Chaplin, she had romantic flings with wealthy oil men and bandleaders  She got married and divorced several times (a total of 6 divorces in her life) She was a movie star.  Typical fodder.  She was dismissive of fame.

Lamarr picked up practical knowledge pertaining to munitions engineering during her marriage to wealthy Austrian arms dealer Fritz Mandl. In 1940 she had the idea for a solution to the problem of controlling a radio-guided torpedo.  At that time, electric data that was broadcast on a specific frequency could easily be jammed by enemy transmitters.  Lamarr suggested rapid changes in the broadcast frequency.  Her romantic partner at the time, composer George Antheil, devised a punch card like device, similar to a  piano roll, that could synchronize a transmitter and receiver.  The system they invented relied on using 88 frequencies, equivalent to the number of keys on a piano.

This idea was later given the name “frequency hopping” but it was never used in the military during World War 2.  However, that basic idea of “frequency hopping” became part of what’s known as “spread spectrum.”  Spread spectrum is integral to the operation of cellular telephones, Bluetooth systems, and WIFI.

After World War 2 Lamarr’s career declined and her last films were made in the early 1950’s, She retired to Florida in the mid 50’s and lived in seclusion. She died on January 19th, 2000 at her home near Orlando, Florida.

The story of her radio transmission invention  became widely publicized in the early 1990s, and she received an electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer award in 1997.

She has received more recognition and acknowledgement of her inventions throughout the 21st century, inventions to devices that have been estimated as adding between $16  and $37 billion to the US economy. 

I’m give Lamarr the last word, in an interview with Forbes in 1990 she said, “….whatever it is, inventions are easy for me to do.”

 

 

Yonkers public Library owns a DVD copy of the documentary titled Bombshell: The Heddy Lamarr Story

I suggest that you check it out, there is much more to her story.

Here is also a video from Youtube on the brilliant mind of Heddy Lamarr: