images-1On this date in 1942, Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr received a patent (with composer George Antheil) for a “frequency hopping, spread-spectrum communication system” designed to make radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect or jam. The invention would eventually become the basis for wireless telephones and Wi-Fi, among other cutting-edge technologies. Lamarr (Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was a Viennese Jew who became a star in German and Czech cinema before marrying an arms manufacturer who intentionally derailed her film career (but exposed her to the world of military technology). She escaped the marriage in 1937 and became a glamorous film star at MGM. Her invention, emerging from Antheil’s interest in automating the control of musical instruments, used a player piano roll to change among 88 frequencies. Lamarr sought to join the National Inventors Council, but was persuaded instead to sell kisses ($50,000 per) to support war bonds; in one day she raised $7 million. In 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her its prestigious Pioneer Award, three years before her death at 86.

“All creative people want to do the unexpected.” —Hedy Lamarr