Spotlight on Hedy Lamarr for Inventors Day

Hedy Lamarr is well known for her roles in Hollywood films but it’s a shame she’s not better known for her role in the Second World War and contribution to today’s internet and mobile phone technology industries. Today is Inventors Day in the US so we’d like to shed a little light on Hedy’s accomplishments.

Austrian actress Hedy emigrated to the United States after signing a contract with MGM — in doing so she fled a loveless marriage to a Nazi arms dealer — a man said to be so possessive he tried to keep her at home and forbade her to continue her acting career. Shortly after emigrating, in 1942, along with her business partner, composer George Antheil she patented a “Secret Communication System”. This system was designed to help the fight against the Nazis by manipulating radio frequencies at irregular and rapid levels between transmission and reception. This led to a forming of an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages being intercepted. This invention developed into an early version of spread spectrum communication, part of the basis for wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It’s said that Hedy used some of the torpedo knowledge she’d heard at her former husband’s meetings.

Today, the patented communications system is a part of GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology. If it wasn’t for Hedy, we would not have Wi-Fi.

Hedy helped accomplish something of huge magnitude, in a time where women were certainly less visible in technology industries than today. She was given an award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for her contribution to wireless technologies in 2000, 3 years before she died.

Hedy is a personal inspiration to me as someone who works in technology — she wasn’t afraid to push boundaries or herself in a time of war, and she should certainly be recognised for her achievements that flow into everyday devices most of us now take for granted. Next time you’re scrolling through your Facebook updates, give a little thanks to Hedy Lamarr (and George Antheil!).