International Inventors Day is celebrated on November 9, in honor of actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000).
Lamarr won fame for the movie Ecstasy (1933) — banned for twenty years—, and later she was known as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, this Hollywood legend was more than just a pretty face. In recent years, it’s become well known that the star of films like Algiers and Samson and Delilah played a key role in the creation of technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and this is her history.
Lamarr had to abandon her film career but she took advantage of this time to finish her engineering studies
Lamarr’s life would serve to make several movies. As a child, the teachers told her family that Lamarr was a highly gifted girl ; she began studying engineering at an early age, but in the end the young woman decided to put her studies aside to dedicate herself to the theatre. In 1932 the controversy arose that catapulted her to stardom during the filming of Ecstasy; she shot several scenes in which she appeared nude, being the first woman in film history to do so.
Being Jewish and against her will, she married an arms industry magnate, the Catholic fascist Friedrich Mandl — a personal friend of Hitler and Musoolini — and director of one of the largest munitions factories of the time. Fritz Mandl suffered from jealousy continuously, so he locked her in his house and put her under strict control. Lamarr had to abandon her film career but she took advantage of this time to finish her engineering studies.
Thanks to her husband’s contacts and meetings with other businessmen, clients and suppliers, Lamarr obtained the details of the weapons technology of the time, which she turned over to the United States authorities years later; Also, some of her meetings served as a guide to devise and patent, in the 1940s, the frequency-hopping technique.
In 1937 Lamarr finally ran away from her husband thanks to her maid, with whom she had a romantic relationship, who helped her escape from him. With her help, she managed to prepare an escape plan by sliding out a restaurant bathroom window and fleeing by car to Paris, France, closely followed by her husband’s bodyguards — although there are several versions —.
When she made landfall, she already had a seven-year contract and a new name: Hedy Lamarr.
From Paris she traveled to London (UK). There she met Louis B. Mayer, the businessman of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM). She sold her jewelry and fled to the United States, on the same ship that he was returning to, to convince him to hire her as an actress. When she made landfall, she already had a seven-year contract and a new name: Hedy Lamarr. During her career in Hollywood she made about thirty films. However, he rejected two films that would end up becoming masterpieces of the seventh art, such as Gaslight and Casablanca, and was about to be able to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.
With the outbreak of World War II, Hedy offered his services to the United States Government as he had inside information on the weapons of the German army. Located in the military technology department, Hedy realized that the radio signals guiding the torpedoes of the US Navy were very easy to intercept.
It was then that, together with his friend the composer George Antheil — composer, pianist, author, and inventor —, they developed a remote-controlled torpedo detection system creating the frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS), a technique modulation of spread spectrum signals. They used a pair of drilled and synchronized drums (like a player piano) to switch between 88 different frequencies. Their system could be used to build radio controlled torpedoes that could not be detected by enemies.
The fact that her patents were granted under her married name and not under her stage name prevented her contribution from receiving due recognition at that time.
A short time later, on October 1, 1942, the first public mention of this invention appeared in The New York Times, however it was not possible to use it at that time because mechanical and non-electronic systems were used in torpedoes at that time. This was accomplished by Sylvania Electronics, in 1957, and their engineering team granted the patent to Lamarr and Antheil in full.
The first known use of the patent was in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The same technique was incorporated into some of the devices used in the Vietnam War and later in the US defense satellite system (Milstar). Until in the 1980s, with the massive irruption of digital technology, frequency switching allowed the implementation of wireless or WiFi data communication, like the one we have now everywhere.
In 1997, Lamarr and Antheil were jointly honored with the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Lamarr was also the first woman to receive the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, known as the “Oscars of Invention”. In 2014, Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her frequency hopping spread spectrum technology.
On January 19, 2000, this historic actress (and an above-average IQ) died in Casselberry, United States, at the age of 85 as a result of a heart complication. She said: Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. The unknown was always so attractive to me… and still is.
Other national inventors days
In the United States, National Inventors Day is commemorated on February 11, the anniversary of the birth of the prolific Thomas Alva Edison.
In Mexico it has been celebrated on February 17 since 1993, in memory of the birth of Guillermo González Camarena who created the trichromatic system of sequential fields for television (color television).
In Hungary, Inventors Day is celebrated on June 13 in memory of Albert Szent-Györgyi, who registered his national patent on synthesized vitamin C in 1941.
In Argentina since 1990 it has been celebrated on September 29, in homage to the birth of Ladislao José Biro, inventor of the ballpoint pen.
At LastBasic we believe in equality of opportunity and gender, this is why we have created a marketplace where anyone with a technological idea can become an inventor — whether actress, teacher, gardener, bank manager or politician —, and develop their prototypes quickly, efficiently and economically.
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