As well as being a leading lady in the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was also the co-inventor of frequency-hopping technology.
Insurance company Hiscox has put together a video on Hedy Lamarr – the star of Hollywood films including the highest-grossing film of 1949, Cecil B DeMille’s Samson and Delilah, and Comrade X, in which she played opposite the actor Clark Gable.
As well as an actress, Lamarr was a keen technologist, and went on to develop a number of inventions. In 1941, during World War II, Lamarr collaborated with the avant-garde composer George Antheil to develop a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes. Similar to the way piano roll recordings function, Lamarr and Antheil’s system allowed radio signals sent to a torpedo to hop between 88 different frequencies – the intention being that this would make it harder for enemies to detect or jam the weapon.
In 1942 the pair were awarded a patent for their “Secret Communications System”, but it was dismissed by the military and never used during World War II. It wasn’t until the patent resurfaced during the Cuban Missile Crisis that the technology found its way onto US navy ships.
The frequency-hopping method pioneered by Lamarr and Antheil has gone on to become a crucial element of today’s spread-spectrum communication technology, which enables both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.