January 31, 2023 3 Comments
Mother of WiFi and also the Most Beautiful Woman in the World
By Susu Smythe February, 2023
The next Kiku pop up sale will celebrate Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000), who has been touted as the “Mother of WiFi” as well as the “ Most Beautiful Woman in the World”. She is best known for her career as an actress before and after World War II but she has recently been recognized for her contributions to science and technology. In 1997, Lamarr and her co-inventor, George Antheil received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award that recognizes leaders on the electronic frontier who are extending freedom and innovation in technology and the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, given to individuals whose creative lifetime achievements in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields have significantly contributed to society. In 2014, Lamarr and Antheil were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame which recognizes the enduring legacies of exceptional U.S. patent holders.
Hedy Lamarr had a curious mind which excelled at problem-solving. She invented for the pure joy of tackling a problem and working out a solution. She grew up in Austria and her father encouraged her by explaining how various machines worked and encouraging her to take things apart and reassemble them.
Friedrich Mandl, her first husband of six, was a very wealthy Austrian military arms merchant and munitions manufacturer. She traveled with him to business meetings where she was present during conversations about military technology. She attended dinner parties with Mussolini, Hilter and others involved in the business of armaments and munitions where she listened and learned about German technological advances and challenges.
Later, after she had emigrated to America and was working as an actress in Hollywood, she dated Howard Hughes and tinkered with issues relating to aerodynamics and plane design. Hughes thought she was a genius. He funded a laboratory for her on the movie set to supplement the one she had at her home where she spent endless hours with gadgets and drafting boards. Hughes took her to his airplane factories and introduced her to the technology of airplanes. Most importantly, he took her intelligence seriously, introduced her to other inventors and gave her access to a number of technology specialists.
When World War II started, she wanted to contribute to the war effort and applied to the National Inventors Council, a clearinghouse created in 1940 for inventions with possible military and national defense uses. Among those who opposed her membership, Charles Kettering, a very successful inventor and the holder of numerous patents, advised her that she could make a greater contribution by using her beauty to sell war bonds.
At the age of 28, Lamarr eventually teamed up with “bad boy” George Anthiel, a successful Hollywood composer. George had had an earlier career in Europe and New York as an avant-garde composer who used the piano as a percussion instrument. He was friends with Ezra Pound, Stravinsky, Picasso and others who were in Paris before the war. One of his concerts caused a riot in Paris it was so over the top. Another in New York involved a powerful wind machine that assaulted the audience. Anthiel conceived a composition that included 16 specially synchronized player pianos, two grand pianos, electronic bells, xylophones, bass drums, a siren and three airplane propellers. However, problems with the synchronization resulted in a rewrite for a single pianola and multiple human pianists that was performed in 1935 at the Museum of Modern Art.
During her first marriage, Lamarr had been present for discussions about radio-controlled torpedoes and the risks that the radio wave frequency might be discovered and jammed. She became interested in this problem after 80 children died when a German torpedo struck the SS City of Benares, a passenger ship crossing from Britain to Canada. She and Anthiel conceived of the idea of using a frequency-hopping signal that would vary within a frequency range, much like the notes of a melody on a scale to stealthily guide a torpedo with no risk of detection . Anthiel’s familiarity with player pianos lead to the idea of a synchronized, miniaturized player piano mechanism with radio signals. At each end of the transmission, identical slotted paper rolls, similar to those used on player pianos, would dictate the code according to their pattern of slots. Lamarr and Anthiel hired Samuel Mackeown, a professor of radio-electrical engineering at CalTech to implement the idea. Lamarr then hired a Los Angeles law firm to search for prior knowledge and eventually obtain a patent that was issued in hers and Anthiel’s names in 1942.
Radio controlled torpedoes were never used in World War II and their patent expired before the US Government used the concept during the Cuban Missile crisis. Their expired patent, however, is a foundational component of today’s GPS, Blue Tooth and WiFi technologies, each of which uses a frequency-hopping system within a defined radio frequency range.
Hedy Lamarr Quotes: "Hope and curiosity about the future seemed better than guarantees. That's the way I was. The unknown was always so attractive to me... and still is."
“Why, any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
"The world isn't getting any easier. With all these new inventions I believe that people are hurried more and pushed more... The hurried way is not the right way; you need time for everything - time to work, time to play, time to rest."
“I was American enough to sell war bonds, but I was an alien when it came to my invention!”
“Inventions are easy for me to do. I don’t have to work on ideas, they come naturally.”
“My beauty was my curse.”
“I’m a very simple, complicated person.”
Learn more about Hedy LaMarr
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