Take a look at that vixen of the ‘40's up there; that's Hedy Lamarr in Sampson and Delilah. Appearing in some 35 films from 1930 to 1958, Ms. Lamarr is arguably the most beautiful woman to ever grace the silver screen. So why are we writing about a film star from the last century? Take a look at that CDMA BlackBerry sitting nearby or perhaps your wireless router. Now, take another look at the woman who made all that possible.
Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna Austria, Hedy began her acting career at the age of seventeen. After leaving her arms-manufacturer husband in 1937, Hedy emigrated to the United States and Hollywood. There, in the time-honored tradition of actors, Hedwig Keisler became Hedy Lamarr. It was in Hollywood that Lamarr met her neighbor, George Antheil. Little did either of them know, this chance meeting would change the future of electronics for decades to come.
World War II was already raining death and destruction on the Axis and Allied powers alike. The two Hollywood neighbors began discussing ways of guiding torpedoes by radio from an airplane. The idea wasn't new, but the Axis powers were adept at intercepting and jamming these wireless signals.
To combat this, Lamarr invented the idea of frequency hopping. Using a player piano as her inspiration, Lamarr conceived of a way to shift radio signals over different frequencies. At specific times known to the transmitter and receiver, the message would stop transmitting on one frequency and start at another. Without knowing the new frequency, jamming or trying to listen to the communication became effectively impossible.
Anthiel, Lamarr's collaborator, devised the mechanisms required to make it possible. In 1942, they were granted US Patent No. 2,292,387 "Secret Communication System." And it changed the war effort. At least it would have if anyone had been paying attention to her. Sadly her contributions to wireless technology wern't put to use until 1951; her patent was re-discovered and formed the basis of a new radio technology, spread spectrum.
Today, spread spectrum allows for many different transmissions to occur simultaneously. It forms the basis of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks, WiFi networks, and even that old cordless phone in your parents' house. All can trace their roots back to Hedy Lamarr, a beautiful and brilliant woman.