The beautiful Hedy Lamarr was more than just a pretty face. She was a brilliant inventor whose ideas developed through her experiences in WWII, formed the basis for the technology currently used in your smartphone. And it all started when Ms. Lamarr heard some synchronized player pianos!

Escaping to Paris in 1937 by dressing undercover as a maid, Lamarr booked passage on a boat to America that she knew Louis B. Mayer would be on, and before making port, the mogul had signed Lamarr to a $600 a week salary (something akin to about $3,500 today). Due to typecasting from Ecstasy, Lamarr appeared at her sultriest in films like the 1940 doubleheader with Clark Gable, Boom Town and Comrade X, as well as Ziegfeld Girl (1941), White Cargo (1942), and Dishonored Lady (1947).

For Lamarr, this newfound freedom had Hollywood trapping her in another form of captivity. “People gawk at me like I was like something in a zoo,” she told Life Magazine in 1938.

But it did not deter her from playing a part in the war effort, which fed into a secret creativity to be an inventor. Indeed, Lamarr had partitioned off a room in her house exclusively for this engineering hobby. So when she met music composer George Antheil at a Hollywood dinner party in 1940, a signal jamming solution jumped out at her. He had invented an avant-garde symphony system where a dozen player pianos could operate in synchronization, and she rolled the idea into torpedo play.

In other words, if pianos could be synchronized to hop from one note to another by using a piano roll, why couldn’t radio signals? By submerging the science under water, Lamarr proposed that a transmitter and receiver could simultaneously jump from frequency to frequency, and an enemy would not know where the signal was coming from—it couldn’t be jammed. With her patent for this “Secret Communication System,” Lamarr and Antheil had laid the groundwork for what would become known as the frequency hopping spread spectrum.

Experts at the time acknowledged the possibilities, but the U.S. Navy might have just seen a pretty face. Likening her inspiration to putting a piano player on a torpedo, the Navy’s top brass simply filed it away and told Lamarr she’d be better served selling war bonds.

She acquiesced and did the same. Yet, the military would come to recognize the importance of her patent during the Cold War, and others built on the idea. Indeed, after the U.S. Navy sat on the patent for the “Secret Communication System” for over two decades, which Lamarr signed away to the military brass in 1942, they finally began implementation of it during the fateful 13 days of October 1962 when Lamarr’s technology was used to code military messages between ships and the U.S. government during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It proved instrumental during the blockade, which saw the globe briefly on the precipice of World War III.

This once neglected patent is a cornerstone of today’s spread-spectrum communication, including GPS, Bluetooth, and all Wi-Fi networks. read more at