In honor of Women’s History Month, we are recognizing the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of influential immigrant and refugee women who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today, we spotlight Hollywood “Golden Age” actress and modern tech luminary Hedy Lamarr.
Hedy Lamarr was an award-winning, Austrian American leading lady during Hollywood cinema’s “Golden Age.” She would later use her considerable engineering skills to advance and inspire communications technology that is universally used today.
Born in 1914 as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, Lamarr was discovered by an Austrian film director in her teenage years. Her role in the Czech film Ecstasy first gained international attention in 1933.
She fled to America after ending her marriage to Fritz Mandle, an Austrian weapons manufacturer who sold products to the Nazis. Once arriving in the U.S., she signed a contract with the Hollywood studio MGM under the name Hedy Lamarr. Her American film debut, Algiers, was widely lauded and became a smash hit. Lamarr would go on to star in a handful of popular films in the 1930s and 1940s, including Lady of the Tropics, Tortilla Flat, and Boom Town alongside fellow co-star Clark Gable.
In 1942, with her film career in full blossom, Lamarr simultaneously worked to develop a radio frequency hopping technique that was an integral development in the modern field of wireless communications.
Lamarr, along with friend and composer George Antheil, received a U.S. patent for a “Secret Communications System” that reduced the risk of detection or jamming of radio-controlled torpedoes. The Technology randomly oscillated between radio frequencies to keep enemies from decoding messages. While initially designed to defeat Nazis, the system was an essential advancement in the development of U.S. military communications and served as the basis for modern Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth communication systems. Lamarr never profited from her invention and was not initially credited. Eventually, in 1997, it was acknowledged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as an important development in wireless communications.
In 1953, Hedy Lamarr completed her naturalization process and became a U.S. Citizen. In 1960, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.