I’m still on vacation in Central Pennsylvania, enjoying family and friends. We were sitting around talking about “news.” What seems to be news for most media is “If it bleeds, it leads.” I guess that has always been the television answer to “local news.” National news is obviously concerned with politics, war and sensationalism, and where LeBron James is going. Being on the road for 2 ½ weeks has kept my news nose in a dumbed-down state.
I sat up late digging into news I might have missed, and was surprised to see a very interesting tidbit. If I’m dredging up stuff you already know, forgive me…the story is fascinating.
I’m talking about the fifteen 2014 inductees into the “Inventors Hall of Fame.” I glanced over the list and seen this:
HEDY LAMARR SECRET COMMUNICATION SYSTEM
My parents, aunts and uncles loved this woman’s movies. I’m a fan of old movies and most of her ‘40s roles were quite good. She was the leading lady with Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, Charles Boyer, Spencer Tracy and on and on.
There have been so many stories about her (she died in 2000) from her Austrian “nude-movie” background in the ‘30s…her Nazi husband who sold war-time ammo to Hitler and Mussolini, her failed six marriages, her shoplifting in the ‘60s, —she was like the Brittany Spears/Lindsay Lohan of the last century.
But INVENTORS HALL OF FAME? I had to dig deeper.
She co-invented the communication ideas that have given us Wireless Communication, Bluetooth technology and much of the foundation for cordless telephones. It all came from a “player piano” from 1924. Her co-inventor, composer George Antheil, experimented with syncing multiple player pianos for some abstract film. His friend, Hedy Lamarr, had watched and listened to her “arms-dealing” husband discussing how torpedoes worked. She came up with the idea that a “piano roll” could send out 88 different frequencies (on 88 keys) to make random changes to the torpedo controls so the enemy couldn’t possibly jam all 88 frequencies at once. They received their patent in 1942, but the US Navy did not use it. But, in 1962, during the Cuban Blockade, the navy successfully used the frequency hopping (like our cell phones now do). However, the patent had expired.
In 1997, three years before her death, she was honored for her contribution and was allowed to sell 49% of the patent rights to Wi-LAN, Inc and we were on our way to wireless communications.
In what I think is the strangest part of her life, the mid-‘60s, she is arrested for shoplifting in a department store, and she is replaced as the star of “Picture Mommy Dead.” She wrote a year later in her memoir this quote:
“On a recent evening, sitting home alone suffering and brooding about my treatment at the police station because of an incident in a department store, and being replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor in a motion picture (imagine how that pleased the ego!) I figured out that I had made – and spent – some thirty million dollars. Yet earlier that day I had been unable to pay for a sandwich at Schwab’s drug store.”
Stranger than fiction—Hedy Lamarr inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.
Maybe Lindsay Lohan will someday find a cure for Cancer.