Monday, July 4, 2016

Hedy Lamarr, A Beauty & A Great Mind by Katherine Pym



Hedy Lamarr in 1930's

Hedy Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) as born 1914 in Vienna Austria to Jewish parents, both considered practicing Christians. Doors opened for her when she performed in a risqué Czech movie. In 1933, she married Fritz Mandl, a wealthy armaments merchant and munitions manufacturer who was in cahoots with the Nazis and sold armaments to Mussolini.

Fritz was not happy with Hedy’s acting career. To keep her occupied and away from the studio, he hosted lavish parties where Hitler and Mussolini were in attendance. He’d take Hedy to business meetings where she listened to wealthy manufacturers discuss how to jam an enemy’s radio frequencies, to locate and destroy their weapons.

Hedy was not stupid. She may have looked like a flower to be admired but not acknowledged. At those meetings, Hedy learned applied sciences.

The marriage was not a good one. Fritz was a controlling man, very jealous. In her autobiography, Hedy stated he kept her prisoner in their palatial mansion most of the time.

By 1937 as Hitler’s strength extended throughout Germany and Austria, as he prepared to spread his rancor throughout Europe, Hedy disappeared to Paris disguised as a maid. She took most of Mandl’s jewels with her. While in Paris, she met Louis B. Mayer, and the rest as they say is history.

Or maybe not...

Even as she was beautiful, Hedy possessed a brilliant mind. She was an inventor and a scientist. She created several items and obtained patents for them. She remembered those meetings Fritz had dragged her to and she loathed the Nazis. She did everything in her power to try and stop them.

George Antheil
By 1940, Hedy had moved to Hollywood. During a dinner party, she met George Antheil, a man of like mind. He was an avant-garde composer. They enjoyed each other’s company and talked of Hedy’s ideas. When the evening ended, Hedy wrote her phone number with lipstick on George’s windshield: Call me.

By this time, WW2 was in full swing. The loss of men at sea each day counted to the several thousands. Allied ships were being sunk by torpedoes from German U-boats.  

Hedy and George realized most of the weaponry during WW2 was radio controlled. They got together and invented a “Secret Communications System” (US Patent No. 2,292,387) what today is known as a “Spread Spectrum Transmission”. If their signals jammed German frequencies, the weaponry would be sent off course, their munitions rendered useless.

Hedy and George worked out a radio frequency called “frequency-hopping” that could not be deciphered or jammed. They set up a sequencer “that would rapidly jump both the control signal and its receiver through 88 random frequencies” similar to the 88 keys on a piano.

For explanation purposes on the patent material, they compared frequency-hopping to a player-piano where the dots on paper are interspersed at irregular intervals. If someone is trying to listen to you, the message will be jumbled, undecipherable as if you hop around indiscriminately rather than walk in a straight line. The sender and receiver know what these hopping intervals are and can communicate. Someone who does not know this system would not be able to understand.

Their idea bloomed into an actual process, then ‘Hedy Kiesler Markey and George Antheil’ sent their designs to the patent office. Their patent was accepted but the Navy never embraced it. One obtuse fellow considered it impractical to stick a player-piano into a torpedo. Their idea was shelved.

But not forgotten...

Hedy Lamarr in 1950's
In his 1945 autobiography, George Antheil gave Hedy Lamarr full credit for the idea. In the 1950’s private companies dug the patent out of the archives and began to use its science. A wireless technology called CDMA was developed (today’s WIFI & Bluetooth). In the 1960’s the Navy used frequency-hopping during the Cuba Missile Crisis.  In the late 1990’s the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Hedy an award for her contribution to wireless communications.

Without Hedy Lamarr’s experiences with her first husband, her unbending dislike of the Nazi’s and her embracement of the Allied war effort, we would not have wireless communications. Oh, I know what you are thinking. Someone somewhere would have figured it out, but I say Hedy’s the girl, the one who spearheaded what we have, today.

Many thanks to:

Wikicommons, Public Domain


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