Hedy Lamarr, born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna on November 9, 1914, was a remarkable figure: not only was the glamorous Hollywood actress dubbed „the most beautiful woman in the world“, but in 1942 she also invented a groundbreaking technology that served as the basis for mobile communication years later.
Hedwig Kiesler gained notoriety with the world’s first nude scene in the experimental Austrian-Czech film “Ecstasy” in 1933, of which her later husband, arms manufacturer Fritz Mandl, tried to buy up all copies. Four years later the Jewish born Hedy fled to London where she met film mogul Louis B. Mayer. Mayer took her to Hollywood and renamed her Hedy Lamarr. As she had an ardent dislike of the Nazis she tried to find some way to help the Allies defeat them: together with avantgarde composer George Antheil, Lamarr designed a device which would prevent radio controlled missiles from being destroyed by enemy forces that could easily intercept and block simple radio signals. To make it impossible for the enemy to “listen in” on the signal, it would be necessary for the radio signal to hop from one frequency to another continually, much like people nowadays zap from one TV channel to another. The movements of the signal would have to be synchronized for both transmitter and receiver with the help of punched tape – Antheil had made use of this device to synchronize the 16 mechanical pianos in his composition “Ballet Mécanique” (1927).
On Aug 11, 1942, Hedy Lamarr was granted US Patent No. 2,292,367 for a “Secret Communication System” which was then available for study by the US military. 20 years later the patent was put into effective use by the US Navy in torpedo guidance systems, while 40 years later it was used in commercial radios. Neither Lamarr, who died on January 18, 2000, nor Antheil, who died in 1959, ever received any compensation for their patent now better known as the basis for “spread-spectrum broadcast communications technologies”. Today, after the “wireless revolution” in the 1990s, spread spectrum technology is utilized for applications as diverse as cellular phones, wireless internet, Milstar defense satellites, traffic signals, and Battlefield Combat Identification Systems.