Hollywood Icon Hedy Lamarr
In 1941 the Nazi’s are winning the war in Europe. The Nazi U boats are fast and agile and the allied torpedoes are not very accurate. Hollywood star, a secret inventor, Hedy Lamarr is determined to help fight the Nazis. Inspired by a player piano, she invents a way to control torpedoes remotely and creates the world’s first secret communications system.
- My mother said if I can make radio transmissions private,
then they can be used to alter the course
of torpedoes securely
and she came up with frequency hopping.
- [Narrator] The idea was straightforward at least.
- [Announcer] At the entrance of an air raid shelter here
and I must move this table.
- Instead of sending a signal signal
down one frequency band,
she breaks up the signal
and sends it across multiple frequency bands
and that makes it really hard to intercept.
- [Narrator] Anyone listening for a signal
on a single given frequency
would only hear a blip
making it impossible to jam
but as long as the sender and receiver are synchronized,
the signal makes perfect sense.
All Hedy needed was a mechanism
to implement her idea and that would take an encounter
with a Hollywood composer and a Player Piano.
George Antheil was famous for experimenting
with Player Pianos that played pre-arranged musical scores.
Holes were punched into a paper drum with 88 columns,
one column for each note.
When all the columns played back,
the full arrangement played out.
Hedy realized that she could apply a similar technique
to implement her channel hopping idea.
- She wrote her name in lipstick
on the windshield of his car
and she left and she said call me,
and so he did and he came over.
- [Narrator] Hedy and George quickly
sketched out their idea.
A transmitter sent signals to a receiver on the torpedo
continuously hopping between different radio frequencies.
They called it a spread spectrum guidance system.
- So, Tan, one of the most precious things I had
is this little tiny piece of paper.
This is the seminal moment
that this concept was drawn on paper.
And it's the back of an envelope.
- It's like they came up with the idea
and they had to find something to quickly jot it down
so they wouldn't lose the idea.
That spark of the invention.
- This is the first image of a communications system
which is secret, it's private,
nobody can jam that,
nobody can figure out where are you jumping to next.