Meet Hedy Lamarr: The American Actress Who Helped Invent Wi-Fi

Hedy Lamarr

Known as “the mother of Wi-Fi”, Hedy Lamarr not only won the hearts world over with her acting prowess, but she also gained popularity for her genius as well. Lamarr was instrumental in developing the frequency hopping technology which is used in developing Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth.

Lamarr was born in a well-to-do family and her father was a bank director. She was the only child at five she took out and reassembled her music box to get to know how the machine worked. While her father was the one to build an interest in science, her mother, a concert pianist put her in both ballet and piano lessons from a young age.

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The Teen Actress

It was her mother who helped her develop an interest in performing arts. Famed director Max Reinhardt discovered her at the age of 16. She studied acting with Reinhardt in Berlin and landed in a small role in a German film called Geld auf der Straβe (“Money on the Street”) in 1930. However, it was the 1933 film, Ecstasy that got her attention and fandom as an actress. Lamarr was just 18 when she acted in the controversial movie.

A failed marriage

Hedy played one of the main roles in a feminist play, Sissy. Reputed as the third-richest man in Austria at that time,  munitions dealer, Friedrich Mandl became a fan of her acting and they got married in the year 1933. However, their alliance didn’t last for long. He did not want Lamarr to pursue her acting career, wherein she had great avenues. In her autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, she writes that she disguised herself as a maid and fled to London in 1937 to get free from the toxic relationship.

Ticket to Hollywood

London became a turning point in her career as she met the head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer. He began promoting her as the “world’s most beautiful woman”. She played varying roles with excellence and the audience was captivated. Some notable films she did were, Algiers (1938), Boom Town (1940), Comrade X (1940), Come Live With Me (1941), and Crossroads (1942). Hollywood introduced her to many new people who became a major part of her life.

Never giving up on science

Hedy used to work on inventions between takes. She had a small set of equipment given to her by Hughes, who she later dated. He had expressed his desire to create faster planes that could be sold to the US military. The Austrian-American actress combined the fins of the fastest fish and the wings of the fastest bird to sketch a new wing design for Hughes’ planes. Hughes called her a genius when she showed him the innovative idea. She met George Antheil at a dinner party in 1940. Although the marriage with Mandl wasn’t successful, she had taken away the knowledge about weaponry. Lamarr used this to come up with the extraordinary new communication system used with the intention of guiding torpedoes to their targets in war. This, however, could not be implemented due to rejection from the Navy.

Recognition as an Inventor

The Electronic Frontier Foundation presented Lamarr and Antheil with their Pioneer Award in 1997. Lamarr also became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. Although she died in 2000, Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the development of her frequency hopping technology in 2014. This technology was later used in developing Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth.

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Saavriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV