If you know the name Hedy Lamarr, it's most likely because of her work as a beautiful starlet during the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s. But her son has spent the last three decades making sure the world remembers her for far more than just that.
Lamarr will be honored for her role in the field of wireless communications this Friday by the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.
At the age of 28, Lamarr designed and patented the Secret Communication System, a device that uses a radio frequency hopping method. It's original intent was to stop U.S. Naval torpedoes from being detected by German naval fleets, but would later inspire the wireless communication systems we know today.
The Hall's biography of Lamarr says her "groundbreaking invention went on to serve as the foundation for a multitude of communication technologies, including fax machines, top-secret military and diplomatic communications, GPS, internet, Wi-Fi, satellite communication systems, and wireless communication, spawning significant advances in cyber security.”
Accepting the award on her behalf will be her son Anthony Loder. Lamarr,who retired to Miami Beach in 1981, died at the age of 85 in 2000.
“Just as Guttenberg was to the written word, Hedy was to the spoken word, to the data,” Loder said. “She just opened up the flood gates of the wireless world by coming up with that concept.”
At the peak of her stardom, the Hollywood press would refer to Lamarr as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” but Loder said that was never what was truly important to her, and she herself once acknowledged, “my beauty was my curse.”
“It was stressful being the most beautiful woman in the world…It bored her to death…but (if someone were to say) ‘oh that’s a wonderful idea, that’s so beneficial,’ that’s what she cared about the most,” Loder said.
“And her getting inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame and these sort of acknowledgements are meaningful in that she’s going to down in the history books, not as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world,’ but as someone who came up with a really bright idea.”
“If my mother was alive today, she’d be very touched by people giving her the recognition she was craving for," Loder said. "My mother was important in a positive way, there’s millions of people affected by what she thought of, and that importance will continue.”
Lamarr fled her home of Austria at the age of 23 when Adolf Hitler and the German army invaded in 1938.
“Her life was turned upside,” Loder said. "She loved America, was very patriotic, and sold millions of dollars of war bonds. And she wanted to help win the war and she came up with a way for radio guided missiles not to be interfered with, and that idea blossomed to the wireless world that we’re all using.”
And Lamarr did this despite never having formal scientific or mathematical training.
“She was married to a munitions guy. She was in on conversations about weapons and weaponry, radio guided torpedoes and the problems they had," Loder said. “She was horrible at math, she couldn’t add two plus two…she was a visual person, and she figured out how to get this torpedo from the submarine to the ship…she was just a bright girl, very smart.”
And that's what Loder has been trying to show the world for decades. He has been interviewed about his mother for documentaries, televisions series and even children’s books.
“(People think) that her life was easy, that she had everything wanted, but she didn’t. Millions of people loved Hedy Lamarr, but nobody loved her,” Loder said. “She struggled a lot, she was a single mother basically, paying bills, and the superficial compliments she got didn’t mean anything to her.”
“My goal in life was to let that (creative) side of her come out and flourish, I always was touched by her inventive, scientific nature.”
Loder will be taking part in a discussion after a free screening of the documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on Thursday at the University of South Florida College of Music Conference Center at 6 p.m.
Other inductees for this year’s Florida Inventor Hall of Fame class include:
- Michael Bass, a Professor Emeritus at the College of Optics and Photonics at University of Central Florida, for his optical laser achievements
- Joanna S. Fowler, a USF alumna and 2008 National Medal of Science laureate, for her research in molecular imaging technology
- Thomas A. Lipo, a Research Professor at Florida State University’s Center for Advanced Power Systems, for his innovations in electrical machinery
- Dr. Alan F. List, President and CEO of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, for his dedication to understanding cancer biology
- Chris A. Malachowsky, Co-Founder and Senior Vice President of NVIDIA and an alum of the University of Florida, for his work on the Graphics Processing Unit
- Luther George Simjian, founder of Reflectone Inc. is receiving the honor posthumously for his pioneering concept of automated teller machines
- Richard A. Yost, a professor of chemistry at UF, as the inventor of the triple quadrupole mass spectrometer
Combined, the class has more than 340 patents.
The event is Friday, with a reception at 6 p.m. and dinner and induction ceremony at 7 p.m. in the Hilton Tampa Downtown. Tickets can be purchased at FloridaInvents.org.