.It all started with a skin flick.
In 1933, a beautiful, young Austrian woman took off her
clothes for a movie director. She ran through the woods,
naked. She swam in a lake, naked, pushing well beyond the
social norms of the period.
The most popular movie in 1933 was King Kong. But everyone
in Hollywood was talking about that scandalous movie with
the gorgeous, young Austrian woman.
Louis B. Mayer, of the giant studio MGM, said she was the
most beautiful woman in the world. The film was banned
practically everywhere, which of course made it even more
popular and valuable. Mussolini reportedly refused to sell
his copy at any price.
The star of the film, called Ecstasy, was Hedwig Kiesler.
She said the secret of her beauty was "to stand there and
look stupid." In reality, Kiesler was anything but stupid.
She was a genius. She'd grown up as the only child of a
prominent Jewish banker. She was a math prodigy. She
excelled at science. As she grew older, she became ruthless,
using all the power her body and mind gave her.
Between the sexual roles she played, her tremendous beauty,
and the power of her intellect, Kiesler would confound the
men in her life, including her six husbands, two of the most
ruthless dictators of the 20th century, and one of the
greatest movie producers in history.
Her beauty made her rich for a time. She is said to have
made - and spent - $30 million in her life. But her greatest
accomplishment resulted from her intellect, and her
invention continues to shape the world we live in today.
You see, this young Austrian starlet would take one of the
most valuable technologies ever developed right from under
Hitler's nose. After fleeing to America she not only became
a major Hollywood star, her name sits on one of the most
important patents ever granted by the U.S. Patent Office.
Today, when you use your cell phone or, over the next few
years, as you experience super-fast wireless Internet access
(via something called "long-term evolution" or "LTE"
technology), you'll be using an extension of the technology
a 20- year-old actress first conceived while sitting at
dinner with Hitler.
At the time she made Ecstasy, Kiesler was married to one of
the richest men in Austria . Friedrich Mandl was Austria 's
leading arms maker. His firm would become a key supplier to
Mandl used his beautiful young wife as a showpiece at
important business dinners with representatives of the
Austrian, Italian, and German fascist forces. One of Mandl's
favorite topics at these gatherings - which included meals
with Hitler and Mussolini - was the technology surrounding
radio-controlled missiles and torpedoes. Wireless weapons
offered far greater ranges than the wire-controlled
alternatives that prevailed at the time.
Kiesler sat through these dinners "looking stupid," while
absorbing everything she heard.
As a Jew, Kiesler hated the Nazis. She abhorred her
husband's business ambitions. Mandl responded to his willful
wife by imprisoning her in his castle, Schloss Schwarzenau.
In 1937, she managed to escape. She drugged her maid, snuck
out of the castle wearing the maid's clothes, and sold her
jewelry to finance a trip to London .
(She got out just in time. In 1938, Germany annexed Austria
. The Nazis seized Mandl's factory. He was half Jewish.
Mandl fled to Brazil . Later, he became an adviser to
Argentina 's iconic populist president, Juan Peron).
In London , Kiesler arranged a meeting with Louis B. Mayer.
She signed a long-term contract with him, becoming one of
MGM's biggest stars. She appeared in more than 20 films. She
was a co-star to Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and even Bob
Hope. Each of her first seven MGM movies was a blockbuster.
But Kiesler cared far more about fighting the Nazis than
about making movies. At the height of her fame, in 1942, she
developed a new kind of communications system, optimized for
sending coded messages that couldn't be "jammed." She was
building a system that would allow torpedoes and guided
bombs to always reach their targets. She was building a
system to kill Nazis.
By the 1940s, both the Nazis and the Allied forces were
using the kind of single- frequency radio-controlled
technology Kiesler's ex-husband had been peddling. The
drawback of this technology was that the enemy could find
the appropriate frequency and "jam" or intercept the signal,
thereby interfering with the missile's intended path.
Kiesler's key innovation was to "change the channel." It was
a way of encoding a message across a broad area of the
wireless spectrum. If one part of the spectrum was jammed,
the message would still get through on one of the other
frequencies being used. The problem was, she could not
figure out how to synchronize the frequency changes on both
the receiver and the transmitter. To solve the problem, she
turned to perhaps the world's first techno-musician, George
Anthiel was an acquaintance of Kiesler who achieved some
notoriety for creating intricate musical compositions.He
synchronized his melodies across twelve player pianos,
producing stereophonic sounds no one had ever heard before.
Kiesler incorporated Anthiel's technology for synchronizing
his player pianos. Then, she was able to synchronize the
frequency changes between a weapon's receiver and its
On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to
Antheil and "Hedy Kiesler Markey," which was Kiesler's
married name at the time.
Most of you won't recognize the name Kiesler. And no one
would remember the name Hedy Markey. But it's a fair bet
than anyone reading this newsletter of a certain age will
remember one of the great beauties of Hollywood's golden age
~ Hedy Lamarr. That's the name Louis B. Mayer gave to his
prize actress. That's the name his movie company made
Meanwhile, almost no one knows Hedwig Kiesler - aka Hedy
Lamarr - was one of the great pioneers of wireless
communications. Her technology was developed by the U.S.
Navy, which has used it ever since.
You're probably using Lamarr's technology, too. Her patent
sits at the foundation of "spread spectrum technology,"
which you use every day when you log on to a wi- fi network
or make calls with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. It lies at
the heart of the massive investments being made right now in
so-called fourth-generation "LTE" wireless technology. This
next generation of cell phones and cell towers will provide
tremendous increases to wireless network speed and quality,
by spreading wireless signals across the entire available
spectrum. This kind of encoding is only possible using the
kind of frequency switching that Hedwig Kiesler invented.
And now you know