Hedy Lamarr is a goddess, she was a sultry screen siren who was famous for being one of the first to portray a woman having an ORGASM on-screen! Before the sodding film censorship boards nixed all the fun stuff in the 30’s…
Hedy wasn’t just a Hollywood starlet though, she was also a badass inventor who gave the world frequency hopping which gave us the how-did-we-live-without-it Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. Honestly I think I’d be dead without them by now, having been eaten by bears after getting lost in IKEA.
Some people (they’re mostly dudes) claim she didn’t really have much of a hand in it and they put her name on the invention patent as she was a well-known celeb. To these people I say;
‘BOLLOCKS YOU CHUFFING BUM BAGS!’
Hedy was born in Austria in 1914. In the 1920s she was discovered as an actress and worked in the European film industry.
One of her most famous early roles was in Ecstasy (1933) where she portrayed a bored young housewife who gets it on with a big-buff-sexy-worker-man. She appeared nude in the film, but was tricked into doing this by the director (What a fucking surprise). This is also the film where she’s shown having a delightful orgasm on screen.
During her time making these European films, Hedy was trapped in a shitty marriage to an Austrian Arms dealer 15 years her senior.
He was a gross, controlling asshat and you know, A FUCKING NAZI ARMS DEALER, so Hedy decided to ditch the git. Hedy disguised herself as a maid and fled the country running off to Paris where she met Louis B. Meyer, of MGM studios. Louis then whisked her off to become a Hollywood film star.
Hedy lamented only being given roles where she was a sexy, almost mute figure in most of her films; she was getting really really bored. So she decided she’d invent cool stuff on the side.
Hedy was totally self-taught, she’d had no formal training but she did have a brilliant mind and an eye for detail.
She dated the rather eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes for a while and he’d ask her advice when he was building planes. Hedy (being a fucking smart cookie) gave Howard a whole heap of drawings and research which she’d gathered using techniques from birds and told him he should start to go about making his planes more aerodynamic. SMART!
Her biggest breakthrough idea was based on a torpedo guidance system. You see, during WW2, torpedoes were radio controlled and this created huge problems because the signal could be easily jammed making the torpedo fly off course faster than your drunk Aunty Irene at your cousins wedding.
Hedy (having been married to an arms dealer) had knowledge of how these torpedoes worked AND how they were jammed. So she came up with the idea of frequency hopping to make the signal harder to jam.
This meant that the torpedoes could hit shit more accurately and thus blow up more Nazi’s. HUZZAH!
Hedy then asked her good mate, composer and fellow genius, George Antheil, to help her come up with a machine that could hop between frequencies.
George made a neat gadget from a tiny self-playing piano mechanism that synched up with radio waves. Each new note = a new radio frequency. Undoubtedly genius! BUT, this nifty gadget is why some argue Hedy gets too much credit for frequency hopping.
I’d disagree. After all Hedy came up with the idea and understood the musicality behind the theory of frequency hopping.
Anyway, Hedy and George both patented the idea in 1942 and gave it to the US navy as part of the war effort. The idea wasn’t immediately picked up by the Navy (dumbasses) and it was left in a pile marked TO DO until 1962 when they finally utilised the system in their fleets.
I cannot express how incredible and important this invention was.
Frequency hoping is the Grandmother of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS and without it we could not watch amusing videos of cats all day instead of working!
Hedy and George were recognised by the National inventors Hall of Fame in 2014 when they were posthumously inducted. Took their fucking time with that one…
THANK YOU HEDY, WE LOVE YOU!
This was really interesting, where can I find out more? I’m glad you asked babes. Richard Rhodes book: Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World (bit of a fucking mouthful) is a great read if you’re interested in the technical side of things.
Hedy also has a bonkers autobiography called Ecstasy and Me, which is mostly fabricated bollocks from the ghostwriter, but is a great trashy read.
Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.