Frequency Hopping Starlet: Hedy Lamarr, Mother of GPS


As a young girl growing up in Austria during the early 20th century, Hedy Lamar dreamed of becoming an actress. Her captivating beauty and talent quickly propelled her to Hollywood stardom, but her contributions to the world went far beyond the silver screen. Few people realize that Hedy Lamar was also a pioneering inventor whose work laid the foundation for modern GPS technology.

Early Life and Career in Hollywood

Hedy Lamar was born in Vienna in 1914, and her parents encouraged her to pursue a career in acting. She made her film debut in 1930 and quickly became a rising star in Europe. In 1937, she fled Nazi Germany and landed in Hollywood, where she signed a contract with MGM.

Over the next few years, Hedy Lamar appeared in several successful films, including “Algiers” and “Boom Town.” However, she was much more than just a pretty face. She was curious and creative, always looking for new challenges. In her free time, she tinkered with electronics and invented various devices, including a tablet that dissolved in water to create a carbonated beverage.


The invention of frequency hopping

During World War II, Hedy Lamar became increasingly concerned about the threat of German submarines to Allied ships. She knew radio-controlled torpedoes were a significant weapon in the German arsenal, and she believed there might be a way to jam their signals.

With the help of her friend George Antheil, a composer and inventor, Hedy Lamar developed a system of frequency hopping that would prevent torpedoes from being controlled by a single radio frequency. Instead, the frequency would constantly change, making it nearly impossible for the torpedo to receive a clear signal.


The impact of frequency hopping on GPS technology

Although the military did not initially recognize Hedy Lamar’s invention, it eventually became the foundation for modern GPS technology. GPS relies on the same principle of frequency hopping to ensure accuracy and prevent interference from other signals.

GPS technology may never have been possible without Hedy Lamar’s contribution to the field. Her work has profoundly impacted how we navigate the world and communicate with each other.

Challenges faced by Hedy Lamar as a woman inventor

Unfortunately, Hedy Lamar faced significant challenges as a woman inventor during her time. Despite her intelligence and creativity, her male colleagues often dismissed her and struggled to get her ideas taken seriously.

In addition, her beauty and fame made it difficult for her to be seen as anything other than an actress. Only later in life, long after her Hollywood career had faded, she received the recognition she deserved for her scientific contributions.

Other notable women inventors throughout history

Hedy Lamar was not the only woman to significantly contribute to science and technology throughout history. Women have been inventing and innovating for centuries, often without receiving the recognition they deserve.

For example, Ada Lovelace was a mathematician who wrote the world’s first computer program in the 19th century. Grace Hopper was a computer scientist who developed the first compiler, allowing programmers to write code in a high-level language rather than machine language.

hedy lamarr, inventor of frequency hopping

The legacy of Hedy Lamar and her innovations

Despite her challenges, Hedy Lamar’s innovations continue to impact the world today. Her work on frequency hopping laid the foundation for GPS technology, revolutionizing how we navigate the world.

In addition, her story inspires young women and girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Hedy Lamar’s story proves that anyone, regardless of background or gender, can significantly contribute to the world if willing to take risks and pursue their passions.

How Hedy Lamar’s work continues to impact GPS technology today

Today, GPS technology is used in many applications, from car navigation systems to smartphone tracking devices. Without Hedy Lamar’s work on frequency hopping, these technologies may not have been possible.

In addition, her legacy has inspired a new generation of inventors working to push the boundaries of science and technology. By recognizing the contributions of women like Hedy Lamar, we can encourage more women to pursue careers in STEM fields and create a more diverse and inclusive world.

Resources for learning more about Hedy Lamar and women inventors

Many resources are available if you want to learn more about Hedy Lamar and other women inventors throughout history. The book “Hedy’s Folly” by Richard Rhodes is an excellent biography of Hedy Lamar that thoroughly explores her life and scientific contributions.

In addition, many museums and exhibits celebrate the achievements of women in science and technology. The National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., has a collection of artifacts related to Hedy Lamar and her work on frequency hopping.


Hedy Lamar’s story is a testament to the power of curiosity, creativity, and perseverance. Despite facing significant challenges as a woman inventor in a male-dominated field, she made a lasting impact on the world through her work on frequency hopping.

Her legacy continues to inspire new generations of inventors and innovators. Her story reminds us that anyone can significantly contribute to the world if willing to take risks and pursue their passions.



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