You may know Hedy Lamarr, the sultry siren of the silver screen. But have you heard of Hedy Lamarr, inventor, engineer, and "the mother of Wi-Fi"? Allow us to introduce you.
1. SHE WAS A SERIAL—AND STRATEGIC—BRIDE.
Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, the artist eventually known as Hedy Lamarr married six times between 1933 and 1965. Her last wedding vows were spoken to her own divorce lawyer, though he, too, eventually got the boot. But Lamarr didn't go through all that for nothing. Alongside her first husband, arms dealer and Mussolini sympathizer Friedrich Mandl, Lamarr was privy to the ins and outs of Austrian weapons manufacturing and trade—information she would later offer to the U.S. military during World War II.
2. THAT MARRIAGE HAD A HOLLYWOOD ENDING…
Believe it or not, Lamarr did not especially enjoy her marriage to a fascist. But she also didn't feel safe simply asking the powerful, controlling man for a divorce. Instead, she resorted to a most theatrical strategy: dressing as her own maid and fleeing to Paris by moonlight.
3. …WHICH BROUGHT HER TO HOLLYWOOD.
Lamarr had been acting since she was a teenager, but it was a chance encounter with MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer that made her a household name. Lamarr left Europe and moved to California, where Mayer cast her as the vampy love interest opposite superstars like Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, and Clark Gable.
4. THE STARLET LIFE WAS NOT ALL IT WAS CRACKED UP TO BE.
Studio executives loved Lamarr for her looks (Mayer regularly billed her as "the most beautiful woman in the world") and her exotic persona. But they didn't seem to care much about letting her act. "Any girl can be glamorous," Lamarr once said. "All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."
Before long, Lamarr tired of standing still. She got bored. And then, fortunately for us, she started tinkering.
5. SHE HAD A MIND FOR ENGINEERING.
Lamarr became a prolific inventor. She created a fizzing cube that turned water into instant cola. She started sketching blueprints for unheard-of machines. She took up with millionaire aviator Howard Hughes and drafted new fish- and bird-inspired designs for the wings of his airplanes.
6. WE MIGHT NOT HAVE WI-FI WITHOUT HER.
One night while standing over a piano at a party, Lamarr made friends with composer George Antheil. The two discovered they shared a passion for creating and an intense curiosity about how things work. Using Lamarr's knowledge of weapons design and Antheil's of musical instruments, they created what they called a "frequency-hopping system": a device inspired by the roll of a player piano that could allow military torpedoes to sidestep enemy efforts at radio interference. The fundamental structure of this system would go on to inform many of the devices we rely on today, including GPS and wireless internet.
7. THE GOVERNMENT IGNORED HER TALENTS AT FIRST.
Lamarr offered both her invention and her knowledge to aid the U.S. war effort, but was dismissed. Charles F. Kettering of the National Inventors Council told Lamarr she could serve her country better by using her fame and pretty face to sell war bonds. Gamely, she did, raising $25 million (that's about $340 million today) for the military through public appearances.
Two decades later, the Navy finally caught on to the potential of Lamarr and Antheil's invention and built frequency-hopping technology into the all-important radios used during the Cuban missile crisis.
8. SHE GOT THE RECOGNITION SHE DESERVED…EVENTUALLY.
Lamarr received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, but it wasn't until 2014—fourteen years after her death—that she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.