November 9, 2012
HEDY LAMARR (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, 1913–2000) was very beautiful. The Austrian-American actress starred in several films, including Samson and Delilah (1949). She became famous early, after Gustav Machatý’s 1933 film Ekstase (Ecstasy) featured closeups of her character during orgasm, as well as extensive nude scenes. She was married six times. But you probably knew these things. What you might not know is that Lamarr was also a visionary inventor. With avant-garde composer George Antheil, she invented a radio-controlled torpedo guidance system that worked via “frequency hopping,” coordinated via slotted paper rolls similar to player-piano rolls. They patented the technology, which was intended to allow high-altitude planes to steer torpedoes from above, in 1942. But the concept was two decades ahead of its time; it wasn’t taken up until 1957, when engineers at Sylvania adapted it for military communications, using electronics rather than piano rolls. In 1962, three years after Lamarr and Antheil’s patent expired, the Sylvania technology was installed on ships sent to blockade Cuba. Today, this sort of technology underpins the spread-spectrum communication technology that enables WiFi, cellphones, and GPS.
Heady work! (Sorry.)
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Ti-Grace Atkinson.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Partisan (1904-13) and New God (1914-23) Generations.
What do you think?
Lamarr was keen to have the Allies win WWII & the Nazis had developed radio jammers that could knock torpedoes off their targets; hence the frequency variability.
It’s interesting looking at women like Hedy Lamarr and Leni Riefenstahl as distaff techno-visionaries during the tumultuous Interwar years.
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