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This Hollywood Icon and Inventor Laid the Groundwork for Wi-Fi

Anyone reading this has Hedy Lamarr to thank.

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The innovative and glamorous Hedy Lamarr would have been 103 today. A Hollywood film actress and worldwide beauty icon who was simultaneously an inventor, she laid the technological groundwork that all digital communications — including Wi-Fi — were later built upon. This includes cell phones, fax machines and bluetooth technology among others. But if you’ve ever heard her name, it’s likely as the stunning brunette in Samson and Delilah or Robert Stevenson’s Dishonored Lady.

Her day job was as a Hollywood starlet; it was at night that Lamarr, a Jewish immigrant born Hedy Kiesler Marky, worked on her inventions — and in the 1940s, she developed a way for Allies to speak to one another without being detected by the Nazis.

The Atlantic notes that Lamarr first learned about military technology while she was married to her first husband, arms manufacturer Friedrich Mandle. Working with co-inventor George Anthiel, the two used a piano to create an early version of “spread spectrum” technology, which basically manipulates radio frequencies in such a way that only the two communicating know exactly when and where to tune in — losing any unwanted listeners in the process.

While the U.S. Navy initially ignored her work, they realized its use in 1962, when they used the technology against a Cuban blockade. The rest, as they say, is history. And her “pet projects” — which attracted the attention of business magnates like Howard Hughes — went on to change the world.

Austrian-born American actress Hedy Lamarr (1913 – 2000), 23rd April 1942. (Photo by Eric CarpenterJohn Kobal Foundation/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Austrian-born American actress Hedy Lamarr (1913 – 2000), 6th October 1943. (Photo by Laszlo Willinger/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
Austrian American actress Hedy Lamarr on the set of Copper Canyon, directed by John Farrow. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
Austrian born actress Hedy Lamarr (1913 – 2000) wearing a backless dress designed by Edith Head. (Photo by A. L. Whitey Schafer/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)
Hedy Lamarr publicity portrait for the film ‘Samson And Delilah’, 1949. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)