In the 1930s she was called “the most beautiful woman in the world,” but screen star Hedy Lamarr was obsessed with how things worked.
An Austrian émigré in Hollywood, Lamar, intellectually curious and highly patriotic, and who was raised Jewish, wanted to do something to help her adopted country defeat the Nazis. This prompted her to develop a complex, secret communications system that would later serve as the basis for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, wireless phones, GPS, and other developments.
Problem was it took the Navy 20 years to take her and her co-inventor seriously. Both were high school dropouts and of Austrian and German extraction at a time of heightened suspicion and spying. This fascinating story is explained in greater detail in The Intangible Investor in the November IAM magazine, “Torpedo invention laid the foundation for Wi-Fi and more.” Subscribers can find it here starting October 1.
What drove Lamarr to invent is a focus of this fascinating and well-received documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (96% rated on Rotten Tomatoes). It is available on Netflix and on DVD from many public libraries. Even those familiar with the story will find the film worth watching. It illustrates that some of the best inventions derive from the most unlikely sources and can seem implausible.
“Bombshell” estimates that Larmarr’s invention, had it been widely adopted, would have been worth $30 billion.
Lamarr and her co inventor, George Autheil, a respected American avant-garde composer and concert pianist who spent a decade in Paris associating with James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway, posthumously made it into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
“If you do good,” Lamarr said, “people will accuse you of selfish motives – do good anyway.”
Image source: washingtonpost.com