Philip Graden

Hedy Lamarr: Actor By Day, Inventor By Night

A person who performs many types of work but is not extraordinary in one area is often referred to as a “jack of all trades and master of none.” Hedy Lamarr put that stereotype to shame.

Hedy was born in 1914 in Vienna, Austria. As an only child, she was doted on by her parents. Her father introduced her to the mechanics of technology assembly. Her mother, a concert pianist, introduced her to the arts. It is not surprising, then, that at the tender age of five, Hedy was taking apart her music box to see how it operated and deeply involved in ballet and piano.
Which career route would she choose?

At 16 she took center stage as an actor and began her career on the big screen, but not solely by choice. Because of Hedy’s beauty, she was often recognized for her appearance rather than her mind. Nevertheless, she never let go of her natural intuitions and curiosity.

Unhappy with her acting career in Vienna, she punched her ticket to Hollywood, where her acting career played a leading role in her life, leaving little time for other interests. Undeterred, Hedy found ways to unleash her scientific curiosity.

At home she had an “inventing table” where she worked overtime, and on set she had a smaller “inventing table” she poured over between takes. Her boyfriend at the time, Howard Hughes, introduced her to airplane factories where she saw first-hand the ins and outs of manufacturing. She was smitten.

Fed up with her career, she became increasingly confident there were more important endeavors, including the onset of World War II. When reports surfaced that the Axis military was jamming signals of Allied torpedoes during the war, Hedy took action. She partnered with George Antheil, a fellow composer and inventor, to develop a radio guidance system that used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to reduce the risk of detection and interference—a critical development for the future of high-speed communications.

The master of many—Hedy Lamarr—she set the example of what it means to chase your dreams, proving you can be more than one thing in life. Oh, and she laid the foundation for the future of connectivity.