Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. One of the greatest untold stories of Women in Tech.
In the 1940s, during MGM’s Golden Age, Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. She was also one of the smartest.
Instead of attending Hollywood parties with famous co-stars like Clark Gable, 28-year-old Hedy spent her evenings at home, inventing a secret communication system meant to help the US stop the Nazis.
Hedy was one of the original women in technology. Ahead of her time, she created a radio guidance system called Frequency Hopping. Her invention made it impossible for Nazis to listen in on US military transmissions and “jam” Allied torpedoes.
Lamarr might not be a household name, but we use her Frequency Hopping technology everyday. In the 1990s, it would explode into “Spread Spectrum Technology” and pave the way for the creation of wireless phones, Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi.
Yet, like many women in tech, Hedy received little praise and no financial compensation for her contribution to modern society.
Like most entrepreneurs, Hedy had a technical co-founder by the name of George Antheil. An avant-garde composer, George was inspired by the 88 keys of the piano to create Frequency Hopping.
On June 10th, 1941, Hedy and George filed a US patent for their “Secret Communications System.” The patent was granted and the pair gave it to the US Navy, hoping it would be implemented.
The US Navy did not take the glamorous starlet and the avant-garde composer seriously. Instead, the idea was all-but tossed on the shelf. By the time the technology would be understood, the patent had expired.
Instead Hedy was asked to turn her attention to war fundraising efforts. She traveled kissing anyone who’d purchase $25,000 worth of war-bonds. Some accounts say that in one night, Hedy raised $7 million dollars.
Hedy’s story is familiar to women in tech. She invented a great product but was never taken seriously. Her story is similar to that of many women inventors. When it comes to investments, women-led companies have received only 7% of all venture capital funding in the United States. There are also not enough women investing in other women’s ideas. When it comes to the top 100 venture capital firms, only 7% of partners are women.
The only way we can increase diversity in ideas, is if we invest in diversity. Innovation comes from everywhere. Not just the military or Silicon Valley. It can also come from a starlet and a composer. Even with a man as a co-founder, she never earned a penny for her work. Yet many people made money, from Hedy’s talents.
Lamarr passed away in 2000, her work receiving little public recognition. A portion of Hedy’s ashes were scattered in the Vienna Woods. The other portion was placed in an honorary grave in the Vienna Central Cemetery. The whole world now uses Hedy’s technology, yet for the last 16 years her grave in Vienna Central Cemetery remained unmarked. Until now.
I’m the co-founder of Fund Dreamer. My mission it to champion the stories of social good, under-represented women and diversity-led projects. To mark the 75th anniversary of the patent, my global crowdfunding platform partnered with Susan Sarandon’s documentary film team at Reframed Pictures to raise $9,000 for Hedy’s graveside memorial.
The project was initiated by Hedy’s son Anthony Loder, who’s health is failing. Reframed Pictures is currently producing a documentary on Hedy’s life which will be released in theaters in early 2017. By donating to the memorial, you can get a sneak peek of the doc, attend the premiere in LA or NY, and meet the team. You can see the campaign here.
As a woman in tech, with a global platform I’ve been championing Hedy’s story for the last two months. My PR team has reached out to numerous journalists at tech publications. Oscar winner Susan Sarandon and her team are promoting the project as well. Yet, our memorial is not getting any attention from the tech world.
As I write this article over my wireless laptop, I wonder why the writers are not covering our story. Maybe this is the plight of women in tech. Our stories are often ignored, no matter how brilliant.
To honor Hedy’s work, and that of women in tech, we’re launching the #WeAreHedy challenge. We’re asking women to donate to the memorial or post a black and white photo telling us about your job in tech. Together we can remember Hedy Lamarr and bring awareness to the work done by women in tech. As Hedy would say “It’s about time.”