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Time Magazine

The woman behind Wi-fi

Classic actress Hedy Lamarr was a part-time beauty, full-time scientist

March 8, 2017

Hedy Lamarr, a relic from the star-studded glory days of Hollywood, has finally received recognition for her discovery of Wi-fi.

Hedwig Eva Kiesler, AKA Hedy Lamarr, was born in Austria with her Jewish family. She married Friedrich Mandl, an arms manufacturer who sold weapons to Nazis—including a house party with Hitler and Mussolini. After Lamarr’s scandalous film Ecstasy, her husband forbade her from acting, constricting her mathematical talents to himself.

Lamarr had a knack for mathematics and even helped her husband during business meetings. She had an inventive mind which ultimately concocted her escape. She fled to Paris, got divorced, and packed her bags for Hollywood stardom.

On the official biographical website dedicated to Hedy Lamarr, hedylamarr.com, she met up with infamous film producer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and costarred in flicks with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Jimmy Stewart. Her beauty was so infamous that her kisses raised millions of dollars for the American war effort. However, Lamarr was more than just beauty; she had substance and she had innovation in her blood.

At night after dress rehearsals and photo shoots, Hedy Lamarr would retire to a room set aside for her inventing. She came up different kinds of tissue boxes, a bouillon cube for soft drinks, and an accordion-like skin tightener according to the Guardian. But her most life-changing idea was the "secret communication system," an invention that blocks some radio signals and allows certain other pathways. This is the premise for Wi-fi.

Along with composer George Antheil, they developed a technological communications system that would help the allies win the war. They wrote the blueprint on sheet music and subsequently went to get a patent for the invention.

Unfortunately, the Navy caught wind of this technique and pressured both Lamarr and Antheil to sell the patent to them. They did, and the rest was forgotten history.

The once sultry actress, whose mind was as sharp as titanium, was forgotten in a Floridian suburb. She became more famous for her botched plastic surgery than she was with her famous discovery of Wi-fi. Her forgotten legacy is just another example of how female beauty was more valued than brains.

This article was written with the help of Wi-fi. A GPS route is a by-product of Lamarr’s invention. Her work had helped defeat the axis powers and she never lived to see her own impact on the technological world. In consequence to the world’s ignorance to female inventors, Hedy Lamarr is another woman in the unfamiliar historical figures column.

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