Department of Energy

Five Fast Facts about Actress and Inventor Hedy Lamarr

March 2, 2017

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Hedy Lamarr was a well-known actress in the 1930s and 40s, but she also invented "frequency hopping" -- the basis for wireless technology today. | Illustration by <a href="/node/2349957">Cort Kreer</a>.

Hedy Lamarr was a well-known actress in the 1930s and 40s, but she also invented "frequency hopping" -- the basis for wireless technology today. | Illustration by Cort Kreer.

It’s Women’s History Month on Energy.gov. During the month of March, we’re highlighting the great contributions to science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM fields made by women throughout history, as well as taking a look at fascinating work that women are doing in STEM fields today.

Hedy Lamarr was one of the most popular actresses of her day, but she was also an inventor, patenting a concept known as “frequency jumping.”

Here are some other facts about Hedy Lamarr you might not know:

  1. Hedy Lamarr’s real name is Hedwig.  She was born in Vienna, Austria in 1914 and started acting in German movies, where she caught the attention of Hollywood producers who brought her to America in the late 1930s.
  2. She was unhappily married to a Nazi Arms dealer. Lamarr’s move to America was as much an escape as a movie deal. However, the marriage afforded her the opportunity to rub elbows with German generals and admirals, which is probably where she first heard about military technology.
  3. Lamarr’s co-inventor was a composer.  During World War II, Lamarr partnered with George Anthiel, who used his knowledge of player pianos to help her come up with a workable concept.
  4. Their patent is the basis of modern cellphone technology. The basic concept was for radio signals to jump frequencies so that enemies couldn’t jam the signals. The technology was truly ahead of its time and was never used during World War II. However, the Navy used frequency jumping or spread spectrum technology during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today it forms the basis of how mobile phones, fax machines, and other wireless communication works.
  5. Google honored her 101st birthday with a Google doodle. The short video shows Lamarr’s double life as a famous actress in front of the cameras, and incessant tinkerer in private.