Women’s History Month: Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr was a beauty of Hollywood’s Golden Age, appearing in 18 films between 1940 and 1949.
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With her seductive Austrian accent, she shared the screen with the likes of Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Jimmy Stewart. Though she is best known for her fairly brief screen career, she made important contributions to technology that are in use to this day: she developed the idea that lead directly to wi-fi and bluetooth network communications.

Her whole life Hedy kept a quiet hobby, setting aside a room in her house for inventing. In 1941, with World War II raging in Europe, Hedy designed a communication system called “frequency hopping.” Her idea was that radio-guided torpedoes could switch between various radio frequencies, to make the torpedoes harder for the enemy to detect and jam. She was awarded a patent for this and presented her idea to the US Navy, but the Navy didn’t use the idea until much later, in 1962. The patent remained forgotten until 1998 when it was acquired by a company called Wi-Lan. Hedy’s invention served as the basis for “Spread Spectrum Communications Technology,” which we know better as bluetooth and wi-fi!

So anytime we see a businessman with a bluetooth receiver in his ear, or anytime we download an app onto our smartphone, we can thank Hedy Lamarr!

Big thanks to reader Annabelle Larson for suggesting Hedy Lamarr as a blog topic! Annabelle will get a pair of free tickets to The Leonardo. Still time to nominate your favorite female innovator for inclusion in this blog. Check out this Facebook page and put in your nomination!


Women's History Month

Smithsonian Education Women’s History Resources. Navigate through an interactive gallery and explore photographs of some of twentieth-century America’s famous and influential women.