Why Everyone Should Know 1940s Hollywood Star-Turned-Inventor Hedy Lamarr

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It’s a particularly WYSKy day when Google devotes their daily doodle to a woman who made a significant and lasting contribution to the field of science and technology. On what would have been Hedy Lamarr’s 101st birthday, talented artist Jennifer Hom visually captures the extraordinary story of this 1940s Hollywood star-turned-inventor with an animated doodle. If you use a smartphone or any device that relies on wireless communications, this is absolutely a woman you should know, so we’ve got the story’s details to complement Jennifer’s awesome visual….

Once dubbed “the most beautiful woman in film,” Hedy Lamarr’s own story reads like a movie script, as Google so perfectly put it. After making a string of popular films in the 1930s and 1940s, she was at the height of her career. But the highly intelligent woman was “bored by the film industry and feeling typecast,” and in 1942 turned her attention away from the roles that were pouring in, and toward the Allied war effort as World War II broke out.

As Google explains, “She had some background in military munitions (yes, really), and together with a composer friend, George Antheil, used the principles of how pianos worked (yep, pianos) to identify a way to prevent German submarines from jamming Ally radio signals.” Essentially, their co-authored idea, which earned a patent, involved a radio signaling device, or “Secret Communications System,” that changed radio frequencies simultaneously to prevent enemies from being able to detect messages or block signals from radio-controlled missiles.

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While the technology limitations of the time prevented the feasibility of their idea at first, Hedy and George’s system laid the groundwork for the eventual development of critical, communications technologies – Bluetooth, GPS and wifi – used by  the military and all of us today.

Since the wide-range impact of her invention wasn’t understood until decades later, Hedy received no immediate recognition for her game-changing device. However, in 1997 she and George Antheil were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. That same year Hedy Lamarr also became the first woman to receive the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, considered “The Oscars” of inventing.

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