Hedy Lamarr led an extraordinary life. Born Hedwig Kiesler, Lamarr grew up in Austria in the depths of World War One. After a brief stint as a German film star, she married an Austrian arms manufacturer and dealer: one of the country’s richest men.
Hedy was just 18 at the time. Her new husband was extremely controlling and had ties to Hitler and Mussolini. After only a few years, Hedy fled from her husband, reputedly disguised as her maid. She went to Paris, where she met a Hollywood film producer. And so began Lamarr’s illustrious career as a star of the big screen.
Beautiful and provocative, Hedy was cast in a series of high-profile roles. But the work wasn’t challenging enough for her. A self-taught engineer, she took up inventing to relieve her boredom.
When World War Two hit, Lamarr was asked to contribute to the war effort. In a show of great ingenuity, Lamarr invented an improved torpedo guidance system. She devised a method of ‘frequency hopping’, whereby the signals being sent to guide the torpedo would ‘hop’ between different radio frequencies – this allowed the torpedo to avoid being spotted and sabotaged by the enemy.
Lamarr’s invention didn’t just help the military, it also supported the invention of many of the technologies we now rely on, like Bluetooth, GPS and WiFi. After the war, Lamarr quietly returned to acting, leaving behind a legacy of technology and innovation.
Image credit: Mary Cruse/STFC