Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for Spread Spectrum Technology: Inventions by Women A-Z

Hedy Lamarr 1914-2000
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna, Austria in 1914. At the age of 18 the then Austrian actress had already starred in a German film (1933). The following year she married Austrian millionaire Friedrich Mandl and life took a dramatic turn. Hedwig found herself in a tightly controlled relationship with a man she couldn't love. Her wealthy husband was a Nazi sympathizer and an arms dealer. 

Friedrich insisted Hedwig attend the lavish parties held in their home. Their guests included the infamous Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and their military and scientific cohorts. For four years, Hedwig learned about the science involved, listening to the scientists and other professional experts expound on the latest military technology and Nazi weaponry. But she grew to hate the Nazis and her husband, longing to escape, and one day, disguising herself as her maid, escaped to Paris (1937), where she met MGM's head, Louis B. Mayer. By the time they arrived in America by boat, she had a movie contract, a new name as Hedy Lamarr, and a new life.

Mayer promoted Hedy as the "world's most beautiful woman," and she would eventually make 25 films, starring with Hollywood's greatest. She was both beautiful and talented. But Hedy knew there was more to life than being glamorous and relishing the limelight. "Any girl can be glamorous," she said. "All she has to do is stand still and look stupid." Moreover, her experience in Germany continued to plague her. The world was fast approaching the outbreak of World War II, and as more German submarines torpedoed the passenger ships in the Atlantic, she began to wonder if she could help.

In 1940 she met composer George Antheil and shared her idea for an invention she thought could help the Navy. She had already setup a special room in her home, complete with a drafting board, engineering books, special lighting, and tools. As she explained to George, she knew that radio-controlled torpedoes went off course if someone jammed the signal. However, if the transmitter and receiver were made to "hop frequencies" simultaneously, she believed, one could avoid jamming the signal. In other words, a signal couldn't be intercepted and classified messages could be transmitted and received in secret

George's background in synchronizing more than a dozen player pianos worked on the same principle, by hopping from one note to another. Together they combined Hedy's idea with Antheil's piano technology (he added a coded ribbon), and two years later (1942) they filed a patent for a Secret Communication System, or as it became known, Spread Spectrum Technology
 

To their surprise, the Navy rejected the invention, finding the piano technology to be an odd component. "You want to put a self-playing piano in a torpedo?" the Navy is quoted as saying. Concentrate your war efforts as an actress on promoting war bonds, they told her, which she subsequently did and raised a whopping seven million in one evening alone. She signed the patent over to the Navy and never received a penny. 



1942 diagram in patent
(under Hedy's married name at time)

The Navy did eventually appreciate the invention's value, twenty years later during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. But today her invention is everywhere, and it's hard to imagine our lives without Spread Spectrum Technology. Below are some of the technologies impacted:

(I don't know about you, but this list really surprised me!)
  • GPS
  • WiFi
  • Fax machines
  • Cellular phones
  • Wireless LANS
  • Bar code scanner
  • Palmtop computer
  • Radio modem 
  • Digital dispatch
  • Computer data
  • Email
  • Bluetooth
Recognition came late in life in 1997 when Hedy received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award. This was followed by the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. By then, she had lost her beauty and youth, and worth, according to her son. He accepted the award in her place. Lastly, in 2014, Hedy was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.





Sources:
http://www.hedylamarr.com/; http://www.hedylamarr.com/about/biography.html
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hedy-lamarr-movie-star-inventor-of-wifi/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedy_Lamarr
http://inventionconvention.com/americasinventor/dec97issue/section2.html
http://www.women-inventors.com/Hedy-Lammar.asp


Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

41 comments:

  1. Ah, yes, Hedy Lamarr! You forget to mention what they got her to do for fundraising: selling kisses at $20,000 each. I wrote her into two of my children's non fiction books. Personally, I think they waited to use her invention till the patent ran out. At least she lived long enough to be recognised. "About time!" she said when told. If she hadn't been so beautiful, she might gave been taken more seriously, IMO.

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    1. I'm really impressed with this fascinating, intelligent woman. I had to resist writing more about her. She played dumb too at those lavish parties, learning all she could. Brilliant!

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  2. They didn't take such a great invention seriously - morons! I'm glad she was recognised eventually, but it should have been far sooner.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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    1. Good way to put it, Natasha. I find it so incredible the Navy wrote it off. Makes you wonder how many torpedoes could have been avoided or controlled. The fact it was also called a new Secret Communication System should have been taken seriously. Perhaps the technology at the time was unable to adapt. Hard to say....Today it's invaluable.

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  3. What a beautiful, clever, savvy woman. Wonderful post.

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  4. Another woman with brains, excellent post.

    Yvonne.

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    1. Thanks, Yvonne.....Well, we're almost done with the a-z, but I'm starting to drag. Wrote this last night and couldn't believe all the material on Hedy. Hope the rest are shorter!

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  5. What an absolutely fascinating story. What an amazing life.

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    1. I read that scripts have been passed around and shared with her son regarding Hedy's life story. I think it would make a fabulous movie. I wonder who they'll pick to portray her.

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  6. This was such an interesting post. As a young girl, I enjoyed her movies, but I really thought of her as just one of those glamorous movie stars. It's amazing to find out that behind that Hollywood image, she was so scientific. Good for her that she escaped Germany in its darkest period, and how gratifying it must have felt to realize she could contribute to Hitler's defeat, and finally, and the end, to get recognized for her invention.

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    1. I was very surprised too and couldn't believe I hadn't heard her story before. Stories from that dark period of history still surface and wow me. I'd love to see a movie of her life, although it would be a sad one overall. She married 6 times and struggled with personal relationships....which is another story entirely.

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  7. I was hoping you would talk about Hedy:) She made the film "Ecstasy" where she swam nude and made herself happy, on screen, and got all the notoriety. her first hubby was an ass and much older. I am so glad you used that quote of hers too-it is brilliant! It is such a shame that she never got noticed for this. She married 7 times, I believe, never finding what she truly needed. She was in the news, later in life, known for shoplifting but we don't know if she had some form of dementia either. I think there are many stars that suffer(suffered) from this but it is not made public. Anyhoo-glad you showcased her

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    1. Fascinating, I read about 'Ecstasy' too and all the big ta-do about it. Hubby was indeed a piece of work. Very glad she escaped, but sad her life was lonely and seemingly without support in the end. She was estranged from all the important people in her life. The shoplifting and maybe dementia didn't help. Her son also later said that he thought her inventions (she had more) were an outlet for her, something she really enjoyed....and the one thing she found value in. Sad the recognition came too late for it to matter to her. We can all applaud her now, such as it is!!

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  8. Sounds like her life would make a very interesting movie. Some people lead such interesting lives, however their personal/family lives are often not very stable, as hers wasn't.

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    1. I'll be watching for the movie if and when it comes! It does seem true that often the rich and famous have a darker unstable side. Maybe it's a balancing of life problem, I don't know. Thanks for commenting, Cathy.

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  9. This is really a cool story. She did so many things in her life. Really a remarkable woman :-)

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Roaring Twenties

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  10. She was smart and beautiful! I can't believe they didn't accept her invention. Idiots!

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    1. I bet some felt like idiots when they realized what they had. I'm guessing they didn't have the skill capability to use it. Hmm.....a twenty year learning curve apparently.

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  11. Fascinating story. It seems she was more advanced than the Navy because they just didn't get it until much later.

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    1. Ha-ha....it appears so! There is much more to her story too, but had to pick and choose.

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  12. Well, how about that? I had no idea Hedy Lamar had invented anything, let alone Spread Spectrum Technology. I guess the Navy couldn't quite accept that an actress actually might have an actual brain. Their loss--for twenty years, at least.

    Kern
    www.oddparticle.com

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    1. I also read that her first husband told the Nazis she was too stupid to understand what they were talking about...not to worry!

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  13. The system has always been against women. I'm glad she received recognition. The US Navy owes her an apology.

    Great post, Sharon. This one really hit me hard.

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    1. I would like to see Hollywood do something to honor her. The right producer and director could do it right---we know they are out there. I doubt the Navy would ever say anything. That's life...they would say!

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  14. I've only heard of her as an actress, I never knew she was behind this. It's infiltrated pretty much every aspect of our modern society. Way to go!

    Her son sounds very rude, though. Imagine saying that about your elderly mother. >:(

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    1. He did say (forgot to add) he thought that her inventions were an outlet she enjoyed. But she was apparently estranged from her children up to the end. She had gone downhill a lot in her life. Might even have been dementia and there was the shoplifting thing, which I didn't mention. She was one unhappy woman!

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  15. A very inspiring story! To escape a bad marriage, launch a successful career and invent something we still use today.

    You can find me here:
    ClarabelleRant

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    1. Yes, I have to agree. She accomplished a lot in life despite the sad ending.

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  16. Hi Sharon .. what an incredible story .. I'd never heard of this before ... some lady, as well as being a beauty. Really incredible story ... what prats people can be!! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Yes, truly incredible. I loved learning about Hedy.

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  17. This is an extraordinary story Sharon thank you for bringing her into the limelight. A movie on her life would be a tribute indeed; she must be portrayed accurately and include that the Navy was an ass - at that stage. Also, extraordinary to use music/piano technology to block messages ... she's my hero. I'm also wondering who to portray her ...

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    1. I don't really understand the piano technology all that well, but my neighbor (who has taught piano) heard the story and said it made sense to her.

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  18. I had heard about her inventing wifi, but I find her back story intriguing and hadn't heard about that part. Fascinating woman.

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    1. When I saw the list of technologies her invention had impacted I just couldn't believe it. She deserved far more credit than she received!

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  19. Pretty amazing. Who would have thought.

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    1. I hope word spreads and more learn Hedy's story. Thanks for visiting, Virginia!

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  20. Absolutely fascinating! I had no idea of her background, her escape or her intelligence. What a remarkable woman. Thank you for posting. I'm playing catch up with about 5 letters, got my R visits in yesterday, trying to finish S's and move onto T's today. But, am hitting them all. Don't want to leave any out.

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    1. A pity Hedy didn't receive more credit when she was younger. It's still my hope Hollywood will do her justice. Thanks for commenting and good luck finishing the a-z. I'm writing my 'w' late tonight......yawn :)

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  21. You've done an amazing job of finding stories for all the alphabet, and these histories! Why do we never learn about these? Because history is written by the winners, and they are generally men, whether we like it or not (we don't!). Hedy Lamarr did some amazing things in her days, didn't she?

    www.passporttobrilliance.com
    www.creativecaravanclub.com

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"Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary
(A.B. Alcott). Stay and visit awhile. Your comments mean a lot to me.

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