The story of Hedy Lamarr is best started close to its end. In 1997 The Electronic Frontier Foundation jointly awarded Hedy and her professional partner, George Antheil, the Pioneer Award. This award was for their work in the 1940s on a new frequency hopping communication system that could be used to guide torpedoes to their targets during war. Although it was not adopted until 1962, this communication system has become essential to the daily lives of many 21st century people. This system is a key component of WiFi and Bluetooth. What led to this amazing invention?
Hedy was born in Austria in November 1914. Her parents, a middle-class Jewish couple, showered Hedy, their only child, with attention. Her father would frequently have long conversations and give in-depth explanations to the young girl about inner-workings of different machines. Her father would encourage her to explore how machines worked, and even helped her in the disassembling of her music box, for her to learn about how it worked. Hedy’s mother was a pianist and helped foster her creative talents such as ballet, music, and acting.
Hedy’s first forays into the world of work were as an actress. Her first small film role was at the age of 16. It wasn’t until the age of 18 that she became recognisable from her role in a controversial film called Ecstasy. At the age of 19 the teenaged Hedy married one of her adoring fans, Fritz Mandl. But the marriage was short-lived. Mandl was a Austrian munitions dealer, whom Hedy later described as “the monarch of the marriage.” In the short 4 years they were married, Hedy was unable to pursue her career as an actress. She was frequently forced into interactions with Fritz’s colleagues and friends, many of whom were known members of the Nazi party. She fled to London in 1937.
Whilst in London, Hedy was able to reestablish her career as an actress, through an introduction to Louis B. Mayer of MGM studios. This introduction secured her path to Hollywood and the fame that ensued. She dated Howard Hughes, but her interest in him came from his encouragement of her scientific mind. Hughes was interested in improving the speed and accuracy of fighter jets and planes. This is where Hedy’s ability to invent, improve, and innovate came in. In 1940 she was introduced to George Antheil and together they created a new communication system that became pivotal in the development of WiFi and Bluetooth systems.
Hedy died in 2000, but has been dubbed “the mother of WiFi”. A multi-talented girl, she was known not just for her beauty and acting prowess, but also for her mind and brilliant brain.
Girl Museum Inc.