Hedy Lamarr and the Secret Communication System


Google Doodle paid tribute to a special lady on the 9th of November, 2015, on the eve of her 101st birth anniversary. It was none other than Hedy Lamarr, who is remembered for her on-screen as well as off-screen contributions. Hedy became famous for her controversial love-making scene in the Czech film Ecstasy, before becoming a Hollywood star, a successful career that extents from late 1930s to 1950s. I don’t really know how many of you have watched her movies, but am sure you would thank her for her contributions to the tech world.


Hedy, at the age of 19, married Friedrich Mandi, who was an Austrian military arms manufacturer and merchant. As Hedy had to accompany her husband to his business meetings, she got to interact with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology, and she eventually developed an interest in applied science.


Hedy’s initial inventions such as improved traffic stop light, and a tablet that dissolves in water to create a carbonated drink, went nowhere. When the World War 2 started, Hedy wanted to make her own contribution. Hedy realized that Nazis are blocking signals from radio controlled Allied torpedoes. Thanks to her stardom, it is at this time she got to meet George Antheil, a famous Hollywood composer of that time, who had composed symphonies, some of them had more than a dozen of pianos synchronously played. Antheil also was a person who was tinkered with ideas. They realized that the radio signals can be synchronized the same way pianos are synchronized by hopping from one note to another. This invention led to the development of ‘Spread spectrum communication technology’, which is widely used with the wireless phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, and most of the military communication systems.


They patented (US 2292387) their invention titled ‘Secret communication system’, in the year 1942. However, the US military which at that time was hesitant to accept inventions/ideas from people outside the military, refused to use Hedy’s invention. It was only after a decade or so, the importance of hedy’s invention was realized by the researchers. The rest is history. Hedy and Antheil received Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, for their contributions. They also got inducted to ‘National Inventors Hall of Fame’, in the year 2014.


On 19th January, 2000, Hedy died in Florida, at the age of 86.  Hedy’s life story is as beautiful as a Hollywood thriller movie. As I said in the beginning, you can thank this lady if you find wireless communication a boon. This article is a tribute to Hedy, who proved that she is much more than just another pretty face.


Author: Naveen KM

Source: here and here