Hedy Lamarr – Nov. 9, 1913 to Jan. 19, 2000
Can you imagine going a day without being able to make a call, send a text, or check your email all from your cell phone? If you think about the technological road of inventions that lead to this luxury you’d likely call (pun intended) up a list of (male) names all the way from Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, to Thomas Edison, whose improvements to Bell’s invention are still in use today, to the present, with Steve Jobs and all the Apple guys who made the devices we now think of as appendages. Did you know however, that it was a woman who invented the cell technology platform that makes the devices work?
Austrian born Hedy Lamar began her ascent to fame at the early age of seventeen as an actress staring in both German and Czech films. It was her controversial role in the German film Extase in 1932 that simultaneously caused a commotion in her marriage and caught the attention of Hollywood.
Leaving her country and marriage (to Freidrich Mandl, a wealthy arms dealer) behind, Hedy moved first to Paris, where she met MGM executive Louis B. Meyer, then on to Hollywood where she signed with MGM. Once stateside, she abandoned her birth name of Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler to become simply Hedy Lamar. Her career was long and successful and in her time with the studio, she worked with many of the days leading male stars including Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy.
Hedy was not just a beautiful, talented actress, but had a passion for applied sciences. With the war progressing she, along with her friend, composer George Antheil, developed a system to help the military disrupt enemies from being able to block their radio transmissions. The idea was revolutionary for the time, involving the simultaneous changing of radio frequencies to cause the disruptions. The pair patented the idea and though it was genius, it was too advanced for the time. The idea was put on hold but with the advance of technology and infrastructure, Hedy’s invention resurfaced, being used eventually by the military. Perhaps, however, the most successful application of her radio frequency invention was in years to come being used as the foundation for cellular telephone communications, which is still in use today. So it is thanks to this beautiful, talented, intelligent woman, that I can look up a recipe, text a grocery list, put a playdate on the iCalendar, check the weather for the playdate, all while listening to my favorite tunes … all from my phone.