Snip from an essay by artist Michaela Melián on Hedy Lemarr, the Austrian-born American scientist and actress who was once described as the most beautiful woman in the world by MGM's Louis B. Mayer. Art Fag City Editor Paddy Johnson says, "Not only was she the first actress to simulate an orgasm onscreen in 1933, but her frequency-switching device (now known as frequency hopping) developed with partner George Antheil, is the technology upon with cell phones are built."
Melián assembled this online essay for Art Fag City's annual IMG MGMT which, in which artists are invited to curate image essays on the blog. She also wrote a score to accompany the old school style slide show, which is embedded in the post.
Image above: Michaela Melián, Frequency Hopping, 2008, C-print, watercolor, thread, 35 x 28 cm.
In her ex-husband's Salzburg villa, the immigrant had seen plans for remote controlled torpedoes, which were never built because the radio controls proved to be too unreliable. After the outbreak of the Second World War, she worked on practical ideas to effectively fight the Hitler regime. At a party in Hollywood, Lamarr met George Antheil, an avant-garde composer who also wrote film scores. While playing the piano with the composer, the actress suddenly has an important idea for her torpedo control system. Antheil sets up the system on 88 frequencies, as this number corresponds to the number of keys on a piano. To construct it, he employs something similar to the player piano sheet music that he used in his Ballet Mécanique.IMG MGMT: Life As A Woman, Hedy Lamarr (Art Fag City)
In December 1940, the frequency-switching device developed by Lamarr and Antheil was sent to the National Inventors' Council. A patent was awarded on August 11, 1942. The two inventors leave it to the American military to figure out how to use the device. Lamarr's and Antheil's Secret Communication System disappears into the U.S. Army's filing cabinets.
Finally, in 1962, as the Cuba crisis brews the technology now known as frequency hopping is put to use. Its purpose is not to control torpedoes, but to allow for safe communications among blockading ships - whereupon the principles behind the patent become part of fundamental U.S. military communications technology. Today, this technology is not only the foundation for the U.S. military's satellite defense system, but also used widely in the private sector, particularly for cordless and mobile telephones.
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.