As Europe slid toward war in the late 1930s, one face captivated film viewers. Austria-born Hedy Lamarr wowed cinema audiences with her stunning looks, which had led to her studio describing her as “the world’s most beautiful woman.” But in her spare time, and despite her lack of education in science, Lamarr dabbled as an inventor – a hobby that would see eventually see her hailed for her contribution to wireless technology.
Lamarr had been brought to the United States by MGM head honcho Louis B. Mayer, having met him in London. Having seen her star rise in 1938 hit Algiers, Lamarr’s entrancing beauty saw her star in several MGM films of the late 1930s and ’40s, peaking in 1949’s Samson and Delilah. Her star was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
But Lamarr was also an inventor, turning her hand to traffic lights and fizzy drinks tablets. During the war, she recognized that radio-controlled torpedoes could have their signals jammed and be sent off course. So with the help of composer George Antheil, she invented a method of having signals swiftly jump around a spectrum so that they could not easily be blocked.
Lamarr gained a patent in August 1942, but the U.S. Navy would not even consider her innovation for use on its ships. In any case, the technology of its time was not really up to creating a working system, and it wasn’t until 1962 that Lamarr’s idea, albeit brought up to date, finally saw service. However, its use went far beyond the military.
Indeed, Lamarr’s concept has found use in wireless applications, where it helps makes use of crowded spectrums. For instance, in Bluetooth, hopping around a spectrum allows a device to avoid frequencies that are being heavily used, which means that other signals don’t interfere with the Bluetooth transmission. The value of Lamarr’s work to the world of IT was finally noted in 1977 when the Electronic Frontier Foundation recognized her contribution by bestowing its Pioneer Award.