If you are like me, you remember Hedy Lamarr as a beautiful actress from the 1930s to the 1960s. But did you know that Lamarr was also an inventor? Read Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes to find out her contributions to the world of 21st Century communication systems.
Hedy Lamarr dropped out of school when she was 16 to begin her acting career. Her parents did not necessarily approve that decision but more or less supported her. Her father was a wealthy banker in Vienna from the end of WWI to the German occupation of Austria. Hedy’s family had a Jewish background that did not sit well with the Nazis. In the mid-1930s, Lamarr married Friedrich Mandl, the third richest man in Austria, who was a munitions manufacturer. Hedy’s husband thought that she was just a pretty face who attended his parties to wine and dine the men who purchased munitions for Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and occupied Austria. He was wrong.
Hedy was soon bored with her husband and their lifestyle. She quit Europe and Friedrich in the late 1930s and moved to Hollywood. There she met George Antheil, a controversial American composer. They teamed up to patent the jam-proof, spread spectrum remote control that is one the bases for today’s GPS, cell phone, and Blue Tooth technology.
They tried to sell their idea to the US Navy for use with torpedoes just before Pearl Harbor. The Navy was not interested despite the fact that 60% of their torpedoes either missed their targets or failed to explode. Hedy also held several other patents for commercial use. It was not until 1997 that the scientific community finally recognized her for her accomplishments.
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