Herstory Science Tech

Hedy Lamarr – not just a beautiful face

A Hollywood beauty icon with the brains to match, Hedy Lamarr was the inspiration for Snow White, and Catwoman from the early Batman comics. She was also an inventor responsible for the spread spectrum technology behind Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth, which are so widely available and used today.

Along with her neighbor, avant-garde composer and writer George Antheil, the two invented a “secret communication system” called frequency hopping, by which one could transmit radio signals along rapidly changing frequencies, in order to keep the enemy from interfering with a ship’s torpedoes. They received the patent for this in August of 1942, and then donated it to the U.S Navy to be used in the fight against the Nazi’s, which the Navy proceeded to ignore.

The military’s first use of this technology, an updated version of the design, was installed in US Navy ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 – 3 years after Lamarr’s patent had expired. Hedy was never compensated for the idea that inspired today’s multi-billion-dollar industry, although the U.S. military has publicly acknowledged her contribution to war weaponry. The Electronic Frontier Foundation jointly awarded Lamarr and Antheil with their Pioneer Award in 1997. That same year Lamarr became the first female to receive the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, the most prestigious award amongst inventors. 

Hot for more?

WATCH: Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr 

READ: The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel 

LISTEN: Stuff You Missed in History Class: Hedy Lamarr and Wireless Technology

Feature photo of Hedy Lamarr – publicity photo for the film The Heavenly Body, 1944

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