Rediscover STEAM
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Rediscover STEAM

Hedy Lamarr, Actress, Inventor & Film Producer

Hedy Lamarr was born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914, in Vienna, Austria. At the age of four, Lamarr was tutored privately and became a proficient pianist, dancer, and multilinguist by the tender age of ten. Already, her life and education foreshadowed her future accomplishments. At sixteen, she was admitted into Max Reinhardt’s Berlin-based dramatic school. A year later, she starred in the motion picture Geld auf der Strasse (Money on the Street). Then, she went on to debut in one of her most popular films, the Czech movie named Extase (Ecstasy).

Her career was hindered when she got married to Fritz Mandl in 1933. Mandl tried to end her stardom by preventing her from appearing on stage and on screen, as well as attempting to erase all publications of Ecstasy. After escaping from Mandl’s sadistic grasp, Lamarr went on to star in various movies, such as the romantic drama Algiers (1938), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), Tortilla Flat (1942), White Cargo (1942), and Samson and Delilah (1949). Despite her struggles, she was still to rise in stardom.

Unbeknownst to her, she was about to pioneer technology that would serve as the foundation for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems. This began when Lamarr started dating Howard Hughes, who provided equipment and assisted her inventions during the minor breaks they had in between her shoots in Hollywood. With his help, she was able to design a wing for Hughes’ planes by incorporating inspiration from nature itself: “fins from the fastest fish and wings from the swiftest bird.” In attestment to her latest discoveries, she once remarked, “Improving things comes naturally to me.

Lamarr continued to demonstrate her skills when she met George Antheil at a party. They discussed their qualms about the impending World War II and formulated a new communication system that would direct torpedoes (a type of submarine) to their targets during war. Their invention introduced a mechanism known as “frequency hopping,” which occurred within radio waves. The transmitter and receiver both flitted to new frequencies, allowing the signals to avoid blockage. Torpedoes could now find their specific target without restriction.

Although the military did not support the system, Lamarr and Antheil still received the U.S. Patent №2,292,387 in August 1942. However, Lamarr did not receive monetary credit for the patent, as it expired. She was later recognized for her abilities when she was awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1960) and admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (2014) on her hundredth birthday. Almost two decades after her death on January 19, 2000, Alexandra Dean directed the documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, portraying Hedy Lamarr’s life.

“I was born an only child in Vienna, Austria. My father found hours to sit by me by the library fire and tell fairy stories.” — Hedy Lamarr

by Aheli Banerjee

References

Field, Shivaune. “Hedy Lamarr: The Incredible Mind Behind Secure WiFi, GPS And Bluetooth.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 8 Mar. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/shivaunefield/2018/02/28/hedy-lamarr-the-incredible-mind-behind-secure-wi-fi-gps-bluetooth/#56f795f941b7.

Hedy Lamarr Quote. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.azquotes.com/quote/166816

Hedy Lamarr. (2020, March 02). Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/actor/hedy-lamarr

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, April 15). Hedy Lamarr. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hedy-Lamarr

2018, Cheslak, Colleen. (2018). Hedy Lamarr. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/hedy-lamarr

Lena. (2018, April 04). Hedy Lamarr’s Invention and Its Importance. Retrieved July 14, 2020, from https://women-s.net/hedy-lamarr-invention/

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Rediscover STEAM sheds light on the stories of underrepresented women throughout history and aims to empower the next generation of female change-makers.

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