Costume Candidate for 2013: Hedy Lamarr

Backers of our Kickstarter project will get to vote on which new costumes we do for 2013. This series of posts is designed to briefly introduce the many notable women and legendary figures we’ll be considering.

Movie star by day, genius inventor by night: it sounds unbelievable. But it’s true. Hedy Lamarr was an extremely intelligent woman with the mind of an engineer. Being a movie star bored her; what she really wanted to do was invent things. She set aside a room of her house as her workshop, with a drafting table and shelves of books on electrical engineering. Her great idea in World War II was what she dubbed “frequency hopping,” which involved switching the frequencies in radio transmissions to prevent jamming. Hedy’s plan was to develop this into a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, one that would be impervious to Nazi interference. She mentioned the idea to composer George Antheil, who proposed using a player piano-like roll of paper to synchronize the frequency hopping. Hedy and George patented their invention and offered it to the Navy, but Washington balked. Fifteen years later, though, the idea was taken up by engineers at Sylvania, who replaced the piano rolls with electronics. Frequency hopping became the basis for secure military communications systems, and was used on the ships that blockaded Cuba in 1962. And now, of course, it’s the technology that underlies cellphones, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

Hedy never made a dime off her patent, but she did receive the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1997.

Think we should add a Hedy Lamarr costume to Take Back Halloween? Make sure you join our Kickstarter project so you can vote!


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