Hedy Lamarr was one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, but her filmography only scratches the surface of her achievements.
Born on November 9, 1914, as Hedwig Eva Kiesler, Hedy spent her early life in Vienna. With two Jewish parents, Hedy left the country with her mother when Austria moved towards unity with Germany before World War II.
Heading to Hollywood
Hedy had already been acting all her young life, and was scouted in London by Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM. MGM took her on, and her Hollywood career began. “Boomtown”, “Ziegfeld Girl” and “Come Live With Me” were some of her big cinematic successes. But what she was working on off-camera was arguably far more interesting.
Hedy’s scientific intellect had been little in demand when the studios had only been interested in her “exotic” look. However, when Howard Hughes met Hedy, he gave her some equipment to tinker with in her trailer while filming. Then things began to happen.
Hughes also took her to view his airplane factories, where she had the opportunity to meet Hughes’ scientists. The story goes that Hughes told her he wanted to make faster planes to sell to the military. On hearing this, Hedy went away and drew up a design that combined design cues from the fastest birds and fastest fish on the planet. Hughes reportedly declared her “a genius” when he saw her sketches.
The brains behind wi-fi
During the War, Hedy invented a “secret communication system” that could guide underwater missiles without detection. It was an idea that would eventually lead to the creation of WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth technology. The US Military would later adopt it, but at the time advised her that she would make a more valuable contribution to the war effort by being a pin-up and selling war bonds. Which she dutifully did, raising $25 million on a tour of the States that took in 16 cities in 10 days.
In her time, she also invented a tablet that could be dropped into water and would dissolve to make a cola drink, a flourescent dog collar and proposed some modifications to the structure of Concorde.
Hedy Lamarr was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2014 — one hundred years after her birth and fourteen years after her death.
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