Origin Of Wireless

Well, if you really wanna know what started wireless down the path to Internet, you gotta go back to the 1940's actress Hedy Lamarr. Who while still a teenager (19) and a world class beauty - in Austria just before WWII - while married to the Austrian arms manufacturer Fritz Mandel, who sold to the Germans - was forced by her husband to attend all his technical meetings with the German Military - as a gorgeous hostess. She had no technical, only acting, training, but had a sharp technical mind (as later events showed).

She began to realize what the Nazi's stood for, hated them, did not like her husband who kept her virtually a prisoner (it was an arranged marriage by her prominent Vienna father), but got what amounted to a technical education at those meetings. The Germans couldn't figure out a way to guide torpedoes by radio in such a way it could not be jammed. She kept her mouth shut, finally drugged her maid, got out through the window, escaped to England, went on stage to make a living, when Louis Mayer, the Hollywood impresario saw her, said 'You are the most beautiful woman in the world. Come to Hollywood, I'll make you a star.'

She did NOT want to become a movie star. She wanted to join the National Inventors Council to help invent things to do in the Nazi war machine. (It's called 'patriotism' a quaint idea that had just about disappeared before 9/11.) But George Kettering, the GM top manager, whom President Roosevelt asked to form the Council so Americans could contribute inventions for the coming war effort knew she was bright, but said they needed actors and actresses to help sell War Bonds - a major finance method then. So she became a Hollywood actress, and agreed to kiss any man who bought $50,000 in War Bonds. Cleared $7 million one day in 1941.

She was playing 4-hand piano one day with George Antheil, a musical hacker (who used aircraft propellers as percussion instruments in Carnegie Hall) when she stopped and said 'That's the answer to the torpedo problem. We are together, but apart. We are synchronized, but independent.

So she uttered the words 'frequency hopping' and they set about to write a patent which did frequency hopping MECHANICALLY using a piano roll tape with its 88 holes, to control both the radio on the sub and in the torpedo. They took out a US Patent filed on June 10th, 1941, and awarded August 11th, 1942 #2,292,387, called 'Secret Communications' and GAVE it to the US Navy. And she got not a dime. They immediately saw the merit in it, classified it, and tried to make it work mechanically through the war. It wasn't reliably enough. BUT by 1958, the Naval Contract Engineer, Romuald Ireneus 'Scibor-Marchocki (who called me in 1993, stunned that the patent he used way back then, without their names on it because it was Navy property, was by the actress Hedy Lamarr) used a computer chip to do the frequency hopping between radios on land and out to a buoy. That worked so well, frequency hopping became a major 'secure communications' method in the Navy by the Cuban Missile crises, 1962. Then all the other services jumped on board, and the US Military (through IRAC) prevented the FCC from permitting manufacturers from making radios based on the technical principle - i.e. spread spectrum. But for a series of reasons, the FCC NOI, written by da! da! the same FCC Engineer some of you know as Mike Marcus, in 1981 PROPOSED rules permitting 100 watts of power and crossing any frequencies. 4 years later, 1985 after a bloody NPRM fight, the FIRST spread spectrum rules for general public use was approved - the Part 15 rules you love to hate. 36dbm max, US. 100mw Europe.

Thus the first ss commercial radios were ok, and began appearing by 1990. And yes, Proxim, Cylink, and Tetherless Access (which OEM'd Cylinks) were on the market. I had a 128kbps Cylink 915mhz, frequency-hopping pair between my office and home office in 1994. Now how do I know all these things? Simple, when just a lad of 13, trying to make my crystal radio set work in 1941 I fell in love with the face of Hedy Lamarr, and would have taken on the whole German Army had she asked. (You can see that face on the bottom of the first page of my NSF Wireless Web Site at http://wireless.oldcolo.com, AND the patent, which looks like a Rube Goldberg.)

So after I started using spread spectrum seriously I kept running into scattered references AND the fact that the IEEE, even though having run an article about her invention, so seminal for the US military, would not honor her. So I nominated her for the Electronic Frontier Foundation's 1997 Pioneer Award. Which she got--which got HER picture and story in news all over the world. (Latest was a long piece in USA Today last week, September 4th). And then the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who are still nervous about their role in WWII, gave her the prestigious Kaplan Award, in 1999. And FINALLY the idiots at the IEEE are about to recognize her absolutely fundamental achievement - which underlies military, commercial, spread spectrum, Wi-Fi, Ultra-Wide band, CDMA cell phones, etc, etc.

Some articles say she never got a penny for her patent. True, but the publicity about her had other financial consequences. She was in her 80's not doing well financially, was reclusive, in Florida. Corel Draw had an art contest using their new software, and the guy who won it, submitted a likeness of Hedy Lamarr. Perfectly OK. BUT Corel Draw, never dreaming she was still alive, used it on their shipped product boxes. She sued 'em and got $5 million in settlement. Bought a new house, played the stock market. And our dear friends at Wi-Lan, bought some rights to her Patent, which brought her some pennies. I imagine when she died, in 2000; it was in silk pajamas under satin sheets. She left $3.5 million to her son and daughter. Mike Wolleben, here on the list may know something about the Wi-Lan rights story.

I have been inundated since 1997 with requests for the story, contacts, more information, interviews on NPR etc, and everyone from French TV, and German Der Spiegal, BBC London, as well as the Japanese, have run variations of the story in print, radio, television, and online. And lots of young girls who were inspired by the story, whose moral is, just because you are a beautiful woman doesn't mean you can't be engineering smart, have done scores of school, college, and national History projects, asking me for help with some of the details, and contact information. The best one, with lots of pictures and very accurate facts is still at http://www.hoxie.org/news99/senior99/hedy1.html done by two girls in Hoxie, Kansas.

So I can say I got the love of my life her reward (recognition) in heaven, as well as on earth. And encouraged more than a few girls to get into engineering. And now you young kids on the list have a lesson in technological history, which only some of us old guys could teach you.

Dave Hughes