GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi are today amongst of life's little wonders, underpinning almost every communications system in the world. But did you know that crossing the city to visit a new exhibition, going on a run with your wireless earphones or even posting this article would not have been possible without Hedy LaMarr's immense brainpower?
“The brains of people are more interesting than the looks I think”
- Hedy LaMarr, 1990
Austrian-born Hedy LaMarr was known as one of the most beautiful actresses during the golden age of Hollywood - so much so that Snow White and Catwoman were imagined in her likeness. She is a cinematic icon - having starred in 30 films over her 28-year career-long. In addition to her excellent manners, jaw dropping beauty and sharp wit, LaMarr was also a natural-born creator. Indeed she was the co-inventor of frequency hopping, also known as signal hopping - one of the most significant technological breakthroughs of the 20th century. It's hard to imagine a starlet today achieving such feats.
Erm... what on earth is frequency hopping, you might be asking...
So glad you asked! Frequency hopping is an element of wireless communication that allows us to communicate faster by jumping (or hopping - you guessed it!) from signal to signal. The idea came from LaMarr's intention to prevent enemy ships from catching torpedo guidance signals during World War II.
Her research was motivated by guilt for living a luxurious life in Hollywood and making good money from her acting career while her country of origin was being torn apart by the war. With her co-creator George Antheil, she found a way to make it impossible for enemy spies to locate and block Ally messages by having the radio guidance transmitter and the torpedo's receiver jump simultaneously from frequency to frequency.
But Hedy was a busy woman and not one to sit idle. Not only did she co-author one of the greatest breakthroughs of the 20th century with her hopping design, LaMarr kept generating ideas for inventions including as an improved traffic stoplight and a tablet that would dissolve in water to make it fizzy.
Today, frequency hopping is estimated to be worth almost £22 billion and in recognition of he contribution, Hedy was honoured with the Pioneer Award of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
One of the reasons why we admire is that LaMarr is because she was motivated to create in order to make the world a better place. Her goal was never a monetary one.
Hedy Lamarr with Spencery Tracy in I Take This Woman (1940)
To conclude, I want to leave you with one of my favourites things that Hedy said in a rare interview from 1969. When asked if she was writing about her troubled love past and regrets in her (unpublished) autobiography by a tumultuous interviewer she gracefully answered:
"No regrets, you learn from everything all the time." Hedy LaMarr, 1969
If you're keen to learn more about Hedy Lamarr's life, check out the documentary Bombshell: The Hedy LaMarr's Story directed by Alexandra Dean.
LUXTRA has named a new RFID-proof wallet the "Hedy" in her honour.
The wallet will be available at the beginning of November. Follow LUXTRA on Instagram to keep up to date.
By Chloé El Bali