Thursday, 22 November 2018

Born in Austria on November 9th 1914, Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) grew up to be one to the most beautiful and gifted Hollywood actresses of the 1940s starring in a range of classic high grossing MGM films.

Unknown to the public she was also a talented inventor. Her burning desire was to be a scientist and although untrained produced some ground breaking innovations.

Her first husband was an Austrian armaments manufacturer and Hedy, a young actress, was able to mix with scientists and professionals in military technology. This first awakened her to the field of applied science. Unhappy, in 1936, she decided to divorce and leave Europe for the USA and Hollywood where her acting career would quickly blossom.

Her second husband was Howard Hughes, a film producer, aviator and inventor. She advised him on the aerodynamic shape of his aircraft designs. Recognising her genius he made available his staff and workshops so she could develop her ceaseless flow of ideas.

In 1940, WW2 was looming and the US Government set up the National Inventors Council to coordinate potential military inventions from the public. Hedy wanted to join but instead was advised to use her Film Star status to campaign for War Bonds, collecting funds for the war effort.

This did not stop Hedy inventing. She thought that military radio frequencies could be easily jammed, especially for radio controlled torpedoes. Her solution was a method now called frequency hopping. In collaboration with a pianist friend they miniaturised automatic piano player devices and synchronised them. Instead of playing piano tunes, different radio frequencies would  substitute the key notes allowing a message to be communicated across the radio spectrum.

Hedy patented their system but it was dismissed by the military. She later discovered her invention had been used in secret by the US Navy and won Government compensation.

Hedy Lamarr was finally recognised in 1997, winning the US Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and in 2014 posthumously inducted into the US National Inventors Hall of Fame. She died on 19th January 2000 aged 85.

Hedy's greatest invention lives on! The frequency hopping method is incorporated into Bluetooth and WiFi electronics of Smartphones and mobile devices to help keep our communication secure.

Blog written by John Faulkner, SATRO Volunteer