Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian-American actress and Hollywood legend known as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” is remembered today, November 9, on the anniversary of her birthday for her pioneering work on the technology that would become the basis for today’s WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth communications systems.
What? you say. Indeed, say I.
More than a pretty face, she had a genius-level IQ of around 140. The Vienna-born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler began studying engineering at an early age but put her studies aside to dedicate herself to the theatre.
Banned for Twenty Years
In 1932, at 18, she was filming several scenes of the Czech movie Ecstasy without, shall we say, the benefit of external adornment. This controversy shot her to stardom during filming, but the movie was banned for twenty years after its release in 1933. Pope Pius XII denounced it, and Hitler banned it in Germany.
She married Friedrich Mandl, a German arms industry magnate who was very jealous and controlling, keeping her in his house. During this time, she put her film career on hold and returned to finishing her mostly self-taught engineering studies.
Using her husband’s contacts, she could view the details of weapons technology, which she gave to the U.S. government for the war effort. These meetings with munitions executives in the 1940s gave her the expertise to devise and even patent the frequency-hopping technique used in modern communications.
Hedy Lamarr’s Contributions
During World War II, she learned that 80 children had been killed crossing the Atlantic in a passenger ship by a German U-boat. She teamed up with George Antheil, an avant-garde composer friend, to work on a “secret communication system” that the U.S. Navy might use to evade German detection.
In this way, “frequency hopping” among 88 different frequencies would make it impossible for Germans to detect or jam radio-controlled torpedoes fired from U.S. Navy ships. She was granted a…