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Although better known for her Silver Screen exploits, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) also became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a "Secret Communications System" to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.
Lamarr and Anthiel received a patent in 1941, but the enormous significance of their invention was not realized until decades later. It was first implemented on naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequently emerged in numerous military applications. But most importantly, the "spread spectrum" technology that Lamarr helped to invent would galvanize the digital communications boom, forming the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations possible.
As is the case with many of the famous women inventors, Lamarr received very little recognition of her innovative talent at the time, but recently she has been showered with praise for her groundbreaking invention. In 1997, she and George Anthiel were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. And later in the same year, Lamarr became the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a prestigious lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is dubbed "The Oscar™ of Inventing."
Proving she was much more than just another pretty face, Lamarr shattered stereotypes and earned a place among the 20th century's most important women inventors. She truly was a visionary whose technological acumen was far ahead of its time.
1940's Film Goddess Hedy Lamarr Responsible For Pioneering Spread Spectrum
Have you ever heard of "Spread Spectrum"? Well, it shouldn't surprise you that most people haven't. Afterall, it's the technical basis that makes wireless communications work in cellular phones, faxes, and other wireless communications systems. It's currently utilized in "wireless" LANS, integrated bar code scanner, palmtop computer, radio modem devices for warehousing, digital dispatch, digital cellular telephone communications, city/state or country networks for passing faxes, computer data, e-mail or multimedia data. And it's use is on the verge of potentially explosive commercial development, especially in relation to the internet.
However, what's IS surprising is that the inventor behind this amazing process is an incredibly beautiful and talented actress of the 1940's! Her name is Hedy Lamarr, known as "The Most Beautiful Girl in The World", who first became famous for her scandalous skinny dipping scene in the 1933 Austrian art film "Ecstacy" (which at the time was banned by the U.S. Customs Department). Often quoted as saying "Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.", Lamarr starred with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, appearing in approximately 25 films during her film career.
Ironically, her real life, one of unusual twists and turns, is truly the stuff that movies are made of. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, she grew up in Vienna, Austria and married millionaire Friz Mandl, a Nazi sympathizer who dealt arms to Hitler. During her four year marriage to Mandl, she listened and learned about advanced weaponry when he took her to all his business meetings as his showpiece wife.
She grew to hate the Nazis as well as her husband and escaped to London, where she met Louis B. Mayer. He brought her to the United States and gave her a shot in Hollywood by giving her a movie contract, a new name, and a new life - though she never forgot about the war that was brewing back in Europe.
She met American composer George Antheil, dubbed "the bad boy of music", and with his help devised a plan to to help the war effort. What they came up with was an idea for a sophisticated anti-jamming device for use in radio-controlled torpedos.
Two years later, when Lamarr was just 26 years old and one of the great sex symbols of all time, they were awarded U.S. Patent Number 2,292,387 on August 11, 1942, under the name "Hedy Keisler Markey" and George Antheil for a "Secret Communications System."
They donated the patent as their contribution to the war effort, however, the invention would not be implemented during World War II and only came into use 20 years later during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when it was installed on ships sent to blockade Cuba - three years after the Lamarr-Antheil patent expired. Neither of them ever received any compensation for their patent.
During that time, Lamarr was also interested in accepting a position under Dr. Kettering who had formed the first "National Inventions Council" for the government. However, she was encouraged to stick with her successful acting career and to help the war effort by selling war bonds. This she did, raising seven million dollars in a single evening.
The "Secret Communications System" has since been in extensive use in military communications. But most importantly, their patent also catalyzed the use of Spread Spectrum, which is a highly efficient way of using radio frequencies at the same time, without interferring with each other. This is the basis for the cellular phones, faxes, and other wireless communications systems in widespead use today.
Who would have known that a glamorous female movie star of the 1940's would defy all stereotypes and create a communications system that was decades ahead of its time and is only now coming into widespread use?
Only in recent times has Lamarr been receiving a new kind of recognition - this time as a celebrated inventor. In early 1997, Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil were awarded with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. Now, inventors around the world are proclaiming her as one of their own. And on August 31, 1997, Lamarr was honored with the prized BULBIEª Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award (the "Oscar" of inventing) given to individuals whose creative lifetime achievements in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields have significantly contributed to society or the earth at large.
Hedy Lamarr was the first female recipient of the BULBIEª and joins a prestigious list of recipients of the BULBIE[tm] which include Paul MacCready, renowned around the world as the father of human-powered flight; Stanley Mason, America's master inventor to Fortune 500 companies; Jerome Lemelson, prolific inventor with over 500 patents ranking third only to Thomas Edison and Edwin land (Polaroid); Donald Banner, former Commissioner of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Bernie Cousino, inventor of the loop-to-loop 8-track tape.
Her son, Anthony Loder, President of Phones, USA, accepted the award on her behalf at the Invention Convention® Awards Program on August 31, 1997 in Pasadena, California, showing some never before seen photographs of Hedy Lamarr. (His father, John Loder, was Lamarr's third husband).
As a result, she has been receiving nationwide press coverage about her real life role as an technological inventor and producers and writers have been submitting scripts and proposals regarding her amazing life story to her son Loder.
While the belated recognition has materialized 55 years after the patent was issued, Hedy Lamarr, now in her eighties and living quietly in Florida, can be assured of her place in inventing history for the creation of this important technology.