Hedy Lamarr

Illustration of Dorktales Storytime Podcast episode on Hedy Lamarr
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Dorktales Podcast: Episode 21

Hidden Heroes of History

Hedy Lamarr

The Dorktales Broadcasting System presents a Tinseltown tale of scientific experiments and world-changing inventions! Who knew that Hollywood’s famous film star in the 1930’s was one of the most brilliant minds of her time? Adored by the public as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Hedy Lamarr’s real talent was technological innovation and invention—from light up dog collars to aircraft wing design! But her most extraordinary achievement was the frequency-hopping technology she developed in the 1940s. It is the foundation of every cell phone, GPS, Bluetooth and wi-fi network in use today.

Creatives Behind This Episode

Jonathan Cormur voiceover
Jonathan Cormur

Voiceover/Narrator

Molly Murphy

Writer

Jermaine Hamilton

Audio Engineer

Arthur Lin

Illustrator

Special Thanks!

We want to thank Molly Murphy, Kristin Schmitz and Monique Hafen Adams for their performance of the The Hedy Lamarr Light Up Dog Collar Jingle in this episode.

Did You Know?

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Hedy Lamarr was a famous MGM Hollywood film actress, producer and, off screen, a brilliant inventor.

Hedy Lamarr was born in Vienna, where her early film career included acting in a number of Austrian, German, and Czech films.

In 1937, she left Austria for Paris, and then London, where she met the head of MGM studio, Louis B. Mayer. He offered her a contract to begin her film career in Hollywood, kickstarting a 28 year journey on the silver screen. Over the course of her time in the industry, she made 30 films, both as an actress and a producer.

Ms. Lamarr was known by the public as the “most beautiful woman in the world” and was adored for her performances on screen. But in between takes, she could be found in her trailer conducting scientific experiments.

Her interest in invention began at age 5, when she took apart a music box and reassembled it.

Her scientific curiosity stayed with her for the rest of her life.

For example, she befriended famous inventor and film producer, Howard Hughes, who was known, in part, for his legacy in aviation. He built planes and flew them at great speeds. Ms. Lamarr noticed that his wing design was slowing his planes down. She studied books on birds and fish, and using nature as her guide, created a new wing design

Mr. Hughes saw her talent and liked her gusto, so he put all of his scientists at her disposal to create her innovative wings. He called her “a genius” and readily adopted this new innovation for his aircraft.

But Hedy Lamarr’s most influential invention is one that still impacts our daily lives…

World War II is in full swing and Ms. Lamarr, wanted to contribute by volunteering her services to the National Inventors Council. The council turned her down and suggested that she use her celebrity status to sell war bonds instead.

The Council’s rejection didn’t stop Ms. Lamarr! She learned that the Navy used radio signals to launch their defenses. They sent those signals, or frequencies, using one channel which meant the frequencies could easily be jammed. Also, the radio signals could be discovered and translated, and the Navy’s communications would be blocked

Ms. Lamarr came up with a brilliant idea: frequency-hopping. This means that instead of all of those communications going on one, easily intercepted channel, they would hop around on many different channels. If one channel was jammed, it would only stop a second or two of the radio communications. The radio signals could not be intercepted, unless you knew the channels that were going to be used beforehand.

To come up with the technology, she worked with her friend, a piano composer by the name of George Antheil [Ant-hi-el]. They developed the idea and created a device that made the frequencies jump across 88 different channels—like the 88 keys on a piano.

They submitted their device to the patent office and were granted a patent on August 11, 1942, but the council thought the invention would be too difficult to be put into place for the war efforts. So, it took until the 1950s for engineers to begin taking the patent seriously. By the early 1960s, they completed the technology to finally implement frequency-hopping. We can thank Ms. Lamarr’s technology for making our modern communications—like cell phones, Bluetooth devices, GPS, and wi-fi networks—possible.

Even though some of Ms. Lamarr’s inventions weren’t as successful as her frequency-hopping, her pioneering spirit never failed! She experimented with new ideas her entire life. She once said, “Inventions are easy for me to do, I don’t have to work on ideas, they come naturally.

And with that natural talent, Hedy Lamarr quietly, and with no fanfare, changed the world.

Hedy Lamar Inventions

Here are only a few innovative ideas and inventions by Hedy Lamarr, who never stopped experimenting:

  • Fluorescent glow-in-the-dark dog collar so owners could easily find their pups in the dark
  • New airplane wing design to create faster planes
  • Dissolvable “fizzy cubes” to turn water into sparkling drinks
  • Improved traffic stoplight design
  • Frequency-hopping technology, the foundation of wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS and cell phones

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Member Kids Listen - Quality audio content for kids
Quality Audio for Kids

Kids Listen

We are members of Kids Listen, a grassroots organization of advocates for high-quality audio content for children! If you are looking for great podcasts for kids make sure you scroll through the member list.

We’ll get you started by shining a spotlight on a podcast for kids inspired by Hedy Lamarr’s never-ending curiosity:

Curious Kid Podcast

Join Jacob and 7-year-old Olivia as they learn fun and educational things. They take on a new topic each episode with the goal of providing an educational and entertaining experience for listeners of all ages. New episodes every Sunday! Available on KidsListen App or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Dorktales Storytime Podcast icon

What are Hidden Heroes of History?

Our special “Hidden Heroes” episodes are the stories of real-life hidden heroes in science, technology, engineering, arts, math and human rights. These are the people who made history in ways you’d never imagine.

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