Hedy Lamarr WiFi: The History of WiFi That Only Some Know

Marketing 13 minute read 14th May 2024

When people ask who invented WiFi, they often hear names like John O’Sullivan and Vic Hayes. Only a few know about the Hedy Lamarr WiFi connection.

If that sounds like the name of a networking company, you’re heading in the wrong direction. This name actually belongs to the brilliant inventor and actress Hedy Lamarr, who provided the foundation for WiFi technology.

Therefore, you must start by looking into Hedy Lamarr to learn the true history of WiFi. Now, the connection between acting and WiFi might seem confusing. But after reading this article, you’ll know who this woman was and how she created the basis of WiFi.

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Let’s discuss “Hedy Lamarr WiFi” by exploring who she was. We’ll consider how wireless networks connect to her work and a brief history of WiFi.

Hedy Lamarr was an American actress known for her roles in Oscar-nominated films like Algiers. But this beautiful woman was more than just an actress. She had an inventive mind and a love for creating new things. At the young age of five, she took apart a music box and rebuilt it just for fun.

Her life story is also quite exciting and remarkable. Even though she had a passion for professional engineering or science, these options weren’t available to girls then.

Therefore, she pursued the acting industry, starting as a script girl and quickly finding success with walk-on parts.

That’s when the Austrian director Max Reinhardt took her to Berlin, where Hedy performed in “Ecstasy.”

After this, she caught the eye of an Austrian munitions baron, Fritz Mandl. They married, but Hedy wasn’t happy. Fritz forced her to attend business meetings about bombs and torpedoes. She pretended that those meetings bored her. But in reality, she was absorbing the information.

That was why she knew a lot about torpedo guidance. She used that knowledge to create a communication system. Now, while this communication system isn’t a part of modern WiFi systems, it did lay the foundation for them. So, a lot of the credit for wireless networks goes to Hedy Lamarr.

Did Hedy Lamarr Invent WiFi?

No, Hedy Lamarr didn’t invent WiFi per se. However, she did create a system that later became the basis of communication methods. These included WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS. That’s why many people ask, “Did Hedy Lamarr invent WiFi?”

Since she didn’t directly invent WiFi, her name doesn’t make it to the front lines for this question. Indeed, John O’Sullivan actually created WiFi. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore Hedy’s contribution to wireless technology.

To be specific, Hedy co-invented an essential element of spread spectrum technology.

It is a part of modern WiFi systems in the form of two techniques. These are frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) and Direct-Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS). We’ll discuss the details of this invention later in this article.

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Why Did Hedy Lamarr Invent WiFi?

Hedy Lamarr invented WiFi to bypass Nazi control and communication blocking. The news of Nazi war machines gaining territory and German U-boat submarines creating chaos in the Atlantic saddened Hedy. But since she couldn’t stop the war, she started thinking of different things to help. She wanted to play her part but wasn’t finding any success.

Then, in 1940, she met George Antheil, a music composer, at a dinner party. He had lost his brother to the war. Hence, he also wanted to do something. Hedy and George immediately became friends and started brainstorming ideas.

But why did Hedy Lamarr invent WiFi, or rather the foundation of it? She could’ve created anything else, even a weapon, to help with the war. Then, why did she choose to create the frequency hopping system? Because Hedy knew about torpedoes that the British were using during the war.

She knew they had an aiming problem and couldn’t effectively take out the German submarines.

Owing to that information, she knew that radio-controlled torpedoes would be the best way to help with the war. Something that the army could launch from airplanes and surface ships to target the submarines, something related to radio waves.

However, the Germans could easily use radio jamming to block the signals. That was the problem she wanted to solve. That’s why she came up with the clever WiFi frequency hopping system.

Besides, her acting career didn’t give her the satisfaction she wanted from her work life. Invention was and always has been her passion. Her famous quote, “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks,” proves this. Therefore, she used to eat up any chance she had to solve a problem.

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How Did Hedy Lamarr Invent WiFi?

Hedy Lamarr invented WiFi using two matching clocks on a ship and torpedo. You already know that Hedy co-invented the basis of secure WiFi with George Antheil. But that isn’t enough to answer the question, “How did Hedy Lamarr invent WiFi?” So, let’s dive into the details.

Hedy and George both had a passion for inventions and playing the piano. During their late-night brainstorming sessions, they used to play famous songs on the piano together. This was where they came up with the idea of frequency hopping.

Inspiration came because only the musicians who knew the song could hop from one key to another. A third person who doesn’t know the song wouldn’t know which key to press next. The musicians will be “hopping” from one key to another while onlookers can only watch and hear.

George knew how to write songs that multiple people could play on the same piano. He gave the musicians the same piano rolls to play the song in sync. He and Hedy wondered whether they could create a similar system through which the torpedo and its controller could communicate.

Instead of a single frequency, they wanted to use two perfectly matched clocks on the ship and the torpedo. These clocks had to start the recordings at the same time. Moreover, they wanted the signal to constantly jump frequencies, making it seem like it was “hopping around” the radio spectrum.

Hedy and George wanted this rapid switching to confuse any attempt to jam the signal. The jammer wouldn’t be able to keep up with where the signal would be next.

To develop this idea, they took the help of the National Inventors’ Council, a wartime agency.

When Did Hedy Lamarr Invent WiFi?

Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil started working on WiFi during World War II. In 1942, they filed a patent for frequency hopping.

You probably hadn’t anticipated learning about a distressing time when asking, “When did Hedy Lamarr invent WiFi?” But as you know, this communication system was an effort to help with the war.

So, during World War II, Hedy Lamarr regularly invented new things. She had the help of Howard Hughes, an aviation tycoon who gave her access to the appropriate tools. When she became friends with George, they both had a common goal and a love for inventions. That’s why they created a secure communication system in two years.

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What Happened to Hedy Lamarr’s Invention?

Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil’s invention didn’t see the light of day before they filed the patent. That’s because the U.S. Navy rejected their patent. They showed no interest in pursuing the system. Additionally, they claimed that Hedy was “an alien with ties to a foreign adversarial power.”

Therefore, they seized the patent and locked it away as a top secret. Due to the adverse reaction, Hedy and George stopped trying to help and returned to their jobs as entertainers.

However, from the 1950s through the 1980s, multiple people employed the frequency hopping system for various technologies. By the 1990s, this system had become as popular as WiFi is today.

Over time, other people kept getting credit for the idea Hedy and George initially thought of. However, during the 1990s, she got an award for her contribution. People finally started recognizing her as “Hedy Lamarr, inventor of WiFi.”

WiFi Keeps Evolving (And Your Business Should Too)

The Hedy Lamarr WiFi connection is more about the system that laid the foundation of WiFi. That’s what the term “WiFi Hedy Lamarr” indicates. However, WiFi technology constantly keeps evolving. People want the fastest speeds, which the frequency hopping system can’t provide.

Right now, the most common standard is WiFi 6. However, WiFi 7 came out in January 2024. Within the next couple of years, we’ll see the release of WiFi 8. WiFi allows you to scale your business, especially when paired with tools like Beambox. Beambox leverages WiFi to get you data about your customers that you can use to improve your marketing results. Start growing your business with the free trial.

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