Hedy Lamarr (Picture: PA images).
History

Hedy Lamarr: The Hollywood Star And Her Revolutionary Weapon

The silver screen legend developed a military system which also provided the foundation for modern-day phone networks.

Hedy Lamarr (Picture: PA images).

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, also known as Hedy Lamarr, was born into an affluent Jewish family in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, in 1914.

She is best known for her beauty and stardom on the silver screen in the 1930s and 40s.

Aged just 19, Hedy Kiesler made headlines for a performance in the film 'Ecstasy', which was considered racy and overtly explicit by some at the time.

When in London in 1937, Kiesler met the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer, who promoted her on the Hollywood stage and persuaded her to change her surname to Lamarr, against a backdrop of notoriety brought about by her performance in 'Ecstasy'.

Later in her career, billed as the "world’s most beautiful woman", Lamarr starred in Hollywood box office hits like 'Boom Town' and 'Samson and Delilah'.

Beneath her glamorous exterior, however, was a brilliant mind, which enabled her to become a pioneer in the field of radio communications.

Her potential was evident from an early age, when, aged just five, she dismantled and reassembled a music box.

She recalled how her father explained to her how things worked and encouraged her curiosity.

Lamarr worked alongside composer George Antheil, and the duo was responsible for the invention of an electronic technique that would combat the jamming of radio signals by the enemy.

This, in theory, would help to protect against interference/decoding of messages, or the blocking of radio-controlled torpedoes. It worked by rapidly spreading signals across frequency channels – "frequency hopping".

Patented in 1942, the "Secret Communication System" was not used in wartime and unfortunately, came ahead of its time.

The design was technologically difficult to implement and came during a period when the US Navy preferred to use ideas that had emerged from the military's scientists.

By 1962, however – the time of the Cuban missile crisis – an updated version appeared on military ships.

In 1997, the pair (Antheil posthumously) received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, given to people whose creative lifetime achievements in the fields of art, science, business, or invention have significantly contributed to society.

In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil were both posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The legacy of their work endures to the present day, as it became a founding component of modern technologies such as WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth.

Cover image: PA.