Actress Hedy Lamarr patents the basis for WiFi

August 11, 1942

Hedy Lamarr in Her Highness and the Bellboy, 1945. 

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.

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

8 Comments

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Awesome! Brings to mind the Mother of the C Compiler "Grace Hopper"

Her accomplishments were incredible and she is largely responsible for the patent of frequency hop, but you really need to do better fact checking.

Your source, the CBS article, only mentions WiFi in the headline, because that claim is wrong. WiFi does not use frequency hop. Her invention has absolutely nothing to do with WiFi and never did. The article makes no such claim, only the headline, and it's concerning to me that you did no fact-checking on this.

To those who say it had to be a man to create something like this that would work. A genius is a genius, buddy, and you probably are not one.

I saw a full length documentary of this story several years ago--astonishing! she was a science pioneer .

Sounds to me that she was flirting with German scientists and her neighbour who actually made the frequency hopping invention. If she was that smart she would have made more inventions.

In reply to by Hans kruiderink

First of all, she was a woman born in 1914; of course she needed the help of a man to get that equipment. Most people were so ignorant; they didn't eve let a woman TRY and do something other than clean, cook and nurture. There are still some people like you that are living proof of my statement; even though we have come a long way since then, I think it's pretty clear there is still some rom for improvement.

A remarkable woman whose work I have followed for some time

That’s Hedley....

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Actress Hedy Lamarr patents the basis for WiFi." (Viewed on May 28, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/11/1942/actress-hedy-lamarr-patents-basis-for-wifi>.