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Women in STEM - Hedy Lamarr

Born in Austria in 1914, Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler would eventually become known by her stage name, Hedy Lamarr. The world-renowned actress is also heralded as one of the inventors of the technology that now gives us Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

In Hedy’s early life, she was married to a munitions manufacturer who allegedly had ties to Hitler and Mussolini. Her Jewish family did not approve, but she was deeply in love. Eventually, their marriage and his disdain for her dream of acting had become too much for Hedy to handle, so she fled from both him and her country - but she had learned a lot from her husband about war and business.

After fleeing her established life for the dream of acting, she met the head of MGM studios, Louis B. Mayer, while he was scouting for new talent in London. A star was born. Hedy would go on to be the lead actress in many Hollywood movies, and become billed as the “world’s most beautiful woman.” But Hedy had other ambitions than just being beautiful.

Always thinking of new creations and how to adapt everyday things for more efficient use, Hedy didn’t share her ideas with very many people. But she did confide in aviation tycoon Howard Hughes, who gave her access to his team of scientists and engineers to work on some of her ideas. During World War II, she wanted to leave Hollywood to go to Washington D.C. and join the National Inventors Council. She felt bad making money and movies while things were so horrible in other parts of the world and she wanted to use her knowledge and skills to do something meaningful. Her management team had other ideas, putting her on a war bonds fundraising mission instead.

She had learned that radio-controlled torpedoes could have their signals jammed and she had the idea of using “frequency hopping” so the signal couldn’t be easily tracked. She contacted her friend, a composer named George Antheil, and the two of them developed a patent on the technology. The US Navy was not open to accepting ideas from outside of their service at the time, and so her idea would not be brought to life until about 20 years later during the Cuban missile crisis. Their patent would become the foundation for Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi technologies many years later, and Hedy and George were recognized by the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

To learn more about Hedy and her accomplishments:

And you can also watch this short documentary from PBS:

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