At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we’ve honored more than 550 Inductees, and Hedy Lamarr is among our most notable. In fact, two new children’s books about Lamarr were released just last month: “Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor,” by Laurie Wallmark with illustrations by Katy Wu; and “Hedy & Her Amazing Invention,” by Jan Wahl with illustrations by Morgana Wallace.
As both an inventor and a film star, Lamarr continues to capture our imaginations.
A Fascinating Life
Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr became a famous actress with the release of her first English-speaking film, the Oscar-nominated “Algiers,” in 1938. She went on to star in films including “Ziegfeld Girl” and “Samson and Delilah.” As a star during Hollywood’s Golden Age, Lamarr lived a rather glamorous life. But when she wasn’t on set, she was pursuing another passion — invention.
Lamarr’s drive to invent started during her childhood, and she continued to problem-solve even after finding success as an actress. It was when Lamarr began working with George Antheil, who was both a Hollywood composer and a former weapons inspector, that her talent and skills in innovation were able to make a significant impact.
A Groundbreaking Discovery
In reaction to reports of the German military jamming the signals of British torpedoes during World War II, Lamarr worked with Antheil to find a solution. Together, they invented a frequency-hopping system. This system allowed ships and torpedoes to communicate through multiple radio frequencies while reducing the risk of detection, jamming and interference. Lamarr and Antheil received a U.S. patent for this invention in 1942.
The frequency-hopping system eventually made an impact far beyond the field of military communications. Today, this technology is considered an important development in wireless communications. In fact, Lamarr and Antheil’s work may be allowing you to read this on your phone or computer right now!
A Lasting Legacy
Though Lamarr died in 2000 at the age of 85, her accomplishments continue to be celebrated. She and Antheil were Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014, and several books and graphic novels have been published to tell her story. The two books published last month are the first on Lamarr to be written specifically for children.
As author Laurie Wallmark explains, “What Hedy Lamarr’s life teaches us — and it’s an important message for all kids to realize — is that you don’t have to choose to be just one thing. Hedy shows us anything is possible.”
Innovators like Hedy Lamarr can serve as invaluable role models for children. According to research from Opportunity Insights, when children are exposed to inventors and invention early in life, they are more likely to become innovative adults.
Learn More About Women in Innovation
This month is Women’s History Month — a great time to introduce more children to inspiring innovators like Hedy Lamarr. The best place to start is with our NIHF Inductees, and you can find them all right here.
Our Camp Invention® program is also celebrating Women’s History Month with a new campaign — Put the Power to Invent in Her Hands. Our goal is to achieve a 50/50 gender balance in our camps by the year 2020! You can learn more and register for Camp Invention here.