Actress Hedy Lamarr was once dubbed ‘the most beautiful woman in the world.’ She was also a mathematician and inventor of frequency hopping spread spectrum, a technology used for Bluetooth and WiFi.
As WWII escalated, Lamarr was motivated to find a way to steer torpedoes by remote control using changing radio frequencies, which she called “frequency hopping,” so that the transmissions could not be jammed by enemies.
She donated her patent to the U.S. government, but the Navy rejected her designs, convinced the mechanisms would be too large to fit into a torpedo.
They responded with, “You should go raise money for the war. That’s what you should be doing instead of this silly inventing,” (which she did, raising war bonds by the millions). So she silently watched her invention become a reality under the credit of others and never made a dime from it.
Over 50 years after her original patent, Hedy did FINALLY get some acknowledgment – even a few awards – but she didn’t show up to accept them. By then, botched plastic surgery made her very reclusive. She died alone in Florida at the age of 86. Her obituaries began with her beauty and made only brief references to the invention she had hoped would prove her mind was beautiful, too.
Today, frequency hopping is used with the wireless phones that we have in our homes, GPS, and most military communication systems.
Happy Birthday, Hedy.