Hedy Lamar: Actress, inventor, “mother of WiFi” waited many years before gaining recognition

Illustration & Article by Savannah Cooks, Entertainment Editor & Staff Writer

              Savannah Cooks

Born on Nov. 9, 1914, in Vienna, Austria, Hedy Lamarr is an Austrian-American actress and inventor. She is relatively unknown, but she is a part of the reason why you are reading this today. Lamarr invented frequency hopping that now aids in our WIFI, GPS and Bluetooth. 

She was an only child born into a Jewish family. This caused her to be close to her father, who urged Lamarr to look at life through open eyes. From a young age, he would teach her the inner workings of machines, and by the age of 5, she could take apart and reassemble a music box while also discussing how it worked. Her mother was a concert pianist who introduced the arts to Lamarr by placing her in both ballet and piano lessons at a young age. 

Director Max Reinhart took notice of Lamarr, then 16, and helped her study acting in Berlin. In 1930, she landed her first small film role in a German film called Geld auf Straβe, translated to “Money on the Street” in English. It wasn’t until 1932 that Lamarr gained name recognition from her role in a film called Ecstasy

In 1933, she married Austrian munitions dealer Fritz Mandl, who had become a fan of Lamarr after her role in the play Sissy. The marriage was short-lived; Lamarr claimed that she couldn’t live her life because he was controlling every aspect of it. While in the marriage, she played as host for Mandl’s friends, some of whom were associated with the Nazi party. When they divorced, Lamarr left for London with knowledge of wartime weaponry from the men’s dinner-table conversations. 

While in London she met Louis B. Mayer from MGM Studios. Through him, she gained her ticket to Hollywood. She gained a lot of popularity in America because of her natural beauty, grace, and accent. That is when she met Howard Hughes.

Hughes was a lot like Lamarr; his brilliant mind was hidden by being an actor. Hughes would aid in developing Lamarr’s innovation by giving her a set of equipment to use in her trailer. This led her to start inventing things, one of which was technology to advance against the Axis powers in WWII.

Lamarr met George Antheil one night and they bonded over their innovative minds. After talking about various topics, Lamarr brought up how she felt guilty for living lavishly in Hollywood while she possessed knowledge to advance the Allies’ weaponry. That’s when Antheil got the great idea to work with Lamarr to do just that. Together they made a new communication system with the intention to lead the forces to their targets. The system used frequency-hopping among radio waves that allowed the forces to find their target. Although she was awarded a patent in 1942 (which expired before she got any money), the Navy rejected the machine, and still wanting to do what she could for the war, Lamarr started to sell war bonds. In 1953, Lamarr became a United States Citizen. 

Lamarr continued to be in films until 1958. Her brilliant mind was never recognized by the public until her later years. She began to win awards for her invention: a Pioneer Award and a Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award (which made her the first woman to ever receive one). 

Lamarr died in 2000 at the age of 86. Fourteen years later, she was put into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her frequency-hopping technology. The technology she created led to the inventions of WIFI, GPS, and Bluetooth. That’s where she gained the name, “The Mother of WIFI.”