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Hedy Lamarr: Hollywood actress and… electronics inventor?

Hedy Lamarr, who was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria in 1913, is well known as a beautiful Hollywood actress and sex symbol. Lamarr is known for her six marriages, including one to her divorce lawyer. She is virtually UNKNOWN as a co-inventor of early techniques in spread-spectrum communications and frequency-hopping (1) technologies in electronic telecommunication! Lamarr starred in the classic films, Cecil B. DeMille‘s “Sampson and Delilah” (1949), “Boom Town” (1940), “White Cargo” (1942), “Tortilla Flat” (1942), “The Conspirators” (1944), and the Czechoslovakian film “Ecstasy” (1933). Lamarr’s autobiography, Ecstasy and Me was penned in 1967. Lamarr was also cast alongside two other Hollywood beauties, Lana Turner and Judy Garland, in the musical extravaganza, “Ziegfeld Girl.” However, she also co-invented, with Avante garde composer George Antheil, the electronic communications technologies above, in her “spare time.”

Lamarr had been very interested in science as a child. Her inventive side is described in detail in a new book that was released this week by Doubleday, Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, by Richard Rhodes.

Lamarr saw danger in the rise of the Nazi party in Germany while married to her first husband, Friedrich Mandle, an Austrian arms dealer. In escaping that marriage, she moved to California and began the practice of inventing things in her spare time between movie shoots as a Hollywood star!

“Hedy invented as a hobby,” Rhodes writes in his book. “Since she made two or three movies a year, each one taking a month to shoot, she had spare time to fill. She didn’t drink and she didn’t like to party, so she took up inventing.” She set up a drafting table to form an “inventor’s corner” in her Hollywood home. Among her many projects was an improved stoplight, according to NPR.

“Coincidentally,” the National Inventors Council (an organization that gathered inventions and ideas from the general public) was launched at the same time, according to

Although few of Lamarr’s ideas came to fruition (such is the nature of invention), she was strongly motivated by the sinking of a cruise ship by Nazi U-boats in 1940. She invented the idea of a radio signal that would “hop around from radio frequency to radio frequency” which would prevent the signal from being jammed and allow radio guidance of torpedoes from nearby airplanes.

Lamarr and Antheil worked on their idea for several months and then, in December 1940, sent a description of it to the inventors council. They were granted a patent for their “secret communication system” on Aug. 11, 1942. They gave the patent at no cost to the U.S. Navy, but the military sat on the idea and did not implement it until the 1960s, long after the patent had expired.

Never place creative ideas in the hands of non-creative people for implementation! :-)

Lamarr ALSO raised more than $25 million for the war effort by promotion of the selling of war bonds!

Antheil and Lamarr never profited from the invention, which became the core technology behind CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) in cell phones and the core technology in Wi-Fi networks.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr its Pioneer Award in 1997 for her role in the creation of spread-spectrum technology. Hedy Lamarr died in Florida in 2000.

-Bill at

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