Monday, November 9, 2015

Beauty and Brains: Hedy Lamarr

Who says a girl can't have beauty and brains? Just look at yours truly. Well, actually--don't look too hard!

But an actress from the Golden Years of Hollywood really did pull it off. Her husband--Louis B. Mayer--called her "the most beautiful woman in the world." The U. S. military discovered she was also one of the most brilliant.

Hedy Lamarr (borm Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler--yes, Hedwig!) was an Austrian and American film actress. She played opposite a stellar array of leading men: Charles Boyer, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, John Garfield, Victor Mature, and even Bob Hope. 

But Lamarr had other interests as well. At the onset of World War II, she was told that she could help the war effort by selling war bonds--and she did. But Hedy wanted to help in other ways. With her Hollywood neighbor, composer George Antheil, Hedy devised a plan to help the Navy.

Inside a player piano, showing the rolls
Author: Tim Walker, UK
One of the problems with radio-controlled torpedoes was that the frequency could be easily jammed. Drawing inspiration from a player piano, they created a system where the controlling frequency would hop around among 88 different frequencies, like the 88 keys on a piano. This frequency-hopping was impossible for the enemy to jam, since it would take too much power to jam all 88 frequencies.

USS Arizona, torpedoed at Pearl Harbor

Sadly, the Navy did not adopt the Lamarr-Antheil plan during WWII. However, their plan was reviewed and implemented by the Navy in the Bay of Pigs blockade of 1962--after their patent had expired.

Fidel Castro
photo produced by AgĂȘncia Brasil

This frequency-hopping concept became the basis for spread-spectrum communication technology, used in GPS and Blue Tooth and Wi-Fi connections. 

Free WiFi Hub in Minneapolis
Author: Ed Kohler

Today, November 9th, is Hedy's birthday, and we can celebrate her epic contributions--not only in the entertainment industry but also in technology. 

Sometimes real life stories are stranger--and even more fascinating--than fiction.

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