Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood beauty and ….inventor of spread spectrum radio?

Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood beauty and ….inventor of spread spectrum radio?

“Any girl can be glamorous,” Hedy Lamarr once said. “All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.” But, ’40’s superstar Hedy Lamarr was far from stupid. Bored with being typecast for her looks, she turned her talents to technology.

• It was World War II and German submarines were targeting passenger cruise lines. Torpedoes could take them out, but they were hard to control. Hedy realized that radio-controlled torpedoes were essential, but radio signals could easily be jammed.

• Together with her friend, composer George Antheil, Lamarr patented the idea of random signal hopping of radio frequencies, to prevent jamming of the signal. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies.

• The Navy classified their invention as top secret, then proceeded to ignore it. Perhaps it was a culture clash..the idea that musical technology could be part of sophisticated weaponry. It was not until the patent expired that the Navy used frequency hopping in secure military communications. Subsequent patents in frequency changing, refer to the Lamarr-Antheil patent as the basis of the field, and the concept lies behind the principal anti-jamming device used today, for example, in the U.S. government’s Milstar defense communication satellite system.

Thanks to Peying Fong for being “gobsmacked” enough about this story to pass it on! Beauty and brains, For The Win!

http://www.npr.org/2011/11/27/142664182/most-beautiful-woman-by-day-inventor-by-night

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13 Responses to Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood beauty and ….inventor of spread spectrum radio?

  1. Peying Fong says:


    I wonder if the Navy made the connection between the invention and the inventor…

  2. DaFreak says:


    Our current generation of Beyonces and Lady Gagas could learn a thing or 2 from her. Would be nice to see some famous people promote science. Preferably non dead ones. My god where did we go wrong. ^^

  3. John Hummel says:


    Yes, we need more like her.

  4. Joan Hogol says:


    very interesting, thanks

  5. sudheer iges says:


    i like old photos & acters.

  6. Peying Fong says:


    I just saw that a book on her was recently released–“Hedy’s Folly”–reviewed in the NYT yesterday. Another for the list…

  7. Rajini Rao says:


    Peying Fong , Hedy’s Folly by Pulitzer prize winner Richard Rhodes is the book that was reviewed in the NPR story linked above..how is the the NYT review..any good?

  8. Peying Fong says:


    Yes, I realized that after posting…I had glossed over the book part in the NPR article and raced straightaway to the Hedy Lamarr factoids! The NYT review was written much more like a proper book review and nicely balanced out the picture of her collaboration with George Antheil. It provides more detail about Antheil. Interesting from my perspective because he composed Ballet Mecanique (which really isn’t a ballet in the conventional sense at all!”). He was quite an innovator in his own right.

  9. Rajini Rao says:


    Glad you liked it, Mykola Tafi 🙂

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