Hedy Lamarr

Military Communications System
Computing and Telecommunications

Silver Screen actress Hedy Lamarr, born on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, enjoyed one of the more memorable careers in Hollywood. Her name still ranks among the brightest lights in the history of movies. But what many people may not know is that she was also an inventor!

On June 10, 1941, Lamarr and composer George Antheil received Patent No. 2,292,387 for their invention of a classified communication system that was especially useful for submarines. The system was a stroke of genius. It was based on radio frequencies, changed at irregular periods, that were synchronized between the transmitter and receiver.

While a message was being sent, both the transmitter and the receiver would simultaneously change radio frequencies according to a special code. At each end of the transmission, identical slotted paper rolls, similar to those used on player pianos, dictated the code according to their pattern of slots. Just as a player piano holds and changes notes at different intervals to make a melody, their invention held and changed radio frequencies to make an unbreakable code. Signals could be transmitted without being detected, deciphered, or jammed.

Although the U.S. Navy originally rejected Lamarr's idea, they did use her concept of "frequency-hopping" during missions in later years.

Lamarr received several awards for her invention, including the 1997 Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for her contributions to the field of spread-spectrum technology. She died in Florida in the year 2000.