On August 11, 1942, actress Hedy Lamarr and musician George Antheil received a patent for a frequency-hopping system to prevent interception and jamming of radio communications.
Lamarr’s path to inventing the cornerstone of Wi-Fi began when she heard about the Navy’s difficulties with radio-controlled torpedoes. She recruited Antheil, a composer she met through MGM Studios, to create what was known as a Secret Communication System.
The idea behind the invention was to create a system that constantly changed frequencies, making it difficult for the Axis powers to decode radio messages. The invention would help the Navy make their torpedo systems become more stealthy and make it less likely for the torpedoes to be rendered useless by enemies.
Lamarr was the brains behind the invention, with her background knowledge in ammunition, and Antheil was the artist that brought it to life, using the piano for inspiration.
In 1942, under her then-married name, Hedy Kiesler Markey, she filed for a patent for the Secret Communication System, patent case file 2,292,387, and proposed it to the Navy.
The Navy refused to accept the new technology during WWII. Not only did the invention come from a civilian, but it was complex and ahead of its time.
As the invention sat unused, Lamarr continued on in Hollywood and found other ways to help with the war effort, such as working with the USO. It wasn’t until Lamarr’s Hollywood career ended that her invention started gaining notice.
Around the time Lamarr filmed her last scene with the 1958 film The Female Animal, her patented invention caught the attention of other technological innovators. The Secret Communication System saw use in the 1950s during the development of CDMA network technology in the private sector, while the Navy officially adopted the technology in the 1960s around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The methods described in the patent assisted greatly in developing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Reprinted from Friends of the National World War II Memorial