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Actress Hedy Lamarr patents the basis for WiFi

August 11, 1942

On this date in 1942, Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr (called “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood”) received a patent with composer George Antheil for a “frequency hopping, spread-spectrum communication system” designed to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect or jam.  Lamarr and Antheil made an interesting pair of collaborators.  She was an Austrian-born beauty and American film star who practiced electrical engineering when off the movie lot; he was an avant-garde composer, notably of Ballet Mécanique, a score that included synchronized player pianos.  The two devised a method whereby a controlling radio and its receiver would jump from one frequency to another, like simultaneous player pianos, so that the radio waves could not be blocked.

The two submitted their patent to the US Navy, which officially opined that Lamarr could do more for the war effort by selling kisses to support war bonds.  On one occasion, she raised $7 million.  She and Antheil donated their patent to the US Navy and never realized any money from their invention, which would eventually become the basis for wireless phones, Global Positioning Systems, and WiFi, among other cutting-edge technologies.

Her son Anthony Loder recalls, "She was such a creative person, I mean, nonstop solution-finding.  If you talked about a problem, she had a solution."

Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna on November 9, 1914.  A student of German theatre director Max Reinhardt, she began her film career in Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1930.  A brief nude appearance by the actress in the film Ecstasy brought her notoriety and fame before she fled Germany in 1937 as the Nazis rose to power.  She travelled to America on the same boat that carried Hollywood studio head Louis B. Mayer; by the end of the voyage, Lamarr had a movie contract with MGM paying $600 a week, contingent on her learning English.  Her film career included Algiers, White Cargo, and the lead in Samson and Delilah.

In 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her its prestigious Pioneer Award, three years before her death in Orlando, Florida on January 19, 2000 at age 86.

Watch the Sunday Morning profile of Hedy Lamarr on screen and as an inventor.

Sources: “August 11: Hedy Lamarr, Inventor,” Jewish Currents; “Hedy Lamarr: Movie star, inventor of WiFi,” CBS Sunday Morning.

Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness 1943
Full image

Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness and the Bellboy, 1943.  Photo in the public domain.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Actress Hedy Lamarr patents the basis for WiFi." (Viewed on July 28, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/11/1942/actress-hedy-lamarr-patents-basis-for-wifi>.

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