An actress and an inventor- why do the two occupations sound contradictory? It is because our society has fed us that objectively beautiful women cannot be intelligent. Hedy Lamar’s story sounds like a rather familiar tragedy- it is that of a woman whose genius was ignored because of her pretty face.
Hedy Lamar held incredible power. Her beauty caught the eye of every person in the room- they stared at her incessantly captivated by face. But her real strength as an inventor was hidden that “mask I (she) could not remove.”
She was born into a Jewish family and grew up in Australia. She made a successful career as an actress starring in iconic films such as Algiers (1938), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), and Boom Town (1940). However, it broke her heart to see atrocities after atrocities being committed against the Jews as she sat thousands of miles away, draped in luxury. She felt a calling to help her kind and set out with Antheil on a mission to protect Allied navy ships in the Atlantic by preventing the interception of torpedo transmission.
Together, they created a frequency-hopping signal – an invention that spread out the frequency of the radio-controlled torpedoes to a much larger bandwidth, making it practically impossible for the Germans to intercept. Proposed to the Navy as the “Secret Communication System,” it promised to revolutionize their war efforts but was immediately rejected. However, by 1950, the same technology was in widespread use. In 1957, it was used to transmit the underwater position of enemy submarines in sonar and the ships used during the 192 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Hedy and Antheil received no compensation or recognition for creating a technology valued at almost $30b today and forms the basis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Hedy was much more than a pretty face- she was a beauty with brains. She is an unconventional beauty.