Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hedy Lamarr: Silly Bimbo? Or Inventor?

Nobody Answers: Last week I promised to get back to Elder George on whether Hedy Lamarr, actually should get any credit for inventing anything besides thinking up a name to replace her real one, which was, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler.

And before I start, I must admit my egregious error in calling Hedy a “blond” bimbo. She was no such thing. She was, as Elder George remembered her perfectly, a stunning raven-haired beauty. A beauty who said, “Any girl can be glamorous, all you have to do it stand still and look stupid.”

Well, easy for her to say. I stand still and look stupid all the time, it doesn't make me glamorous.

Last week, my “genius” friend, Jack Lander, who himself has 11 patents, is an established engineer, and actually works with inventors in developing their products, got back to me.

Jack goes around the country and sets up whole factories, and designs the machines in them. Trust me, Jack knows his stuff.

He also has been writing for Inventor’s Digest as their technical advisor for years.

Because he is a “man” and therefore might beg more credence with Elder George than anything I might say, I quote him here:


“Yes, as far as we know, Hedy did invent a radio-control device for torpedoes. Her husband at the time was a manufacturer of torpedoes, and one of the problems was that those that were radio controlled could be driven off course by transmitters on the target ship. It was easy to locate the control frequency, and then send a counter signal, etc. (not the composer)

Hedy came up with the idea of using a second frequency, quite low, maybe even in the sound range, to alter the torpedo’s radio frequency. The second frequency was a synchronized between the transmitter and the receiver on the torpedo. Essentially, it was frequency modulation---a kind of vibrato that caused the radio frequency to wander all over the place, but in perfect sync between transmitter and receiver.

I doubt Hedy worked out the exact circuitry. (As do I.) She most likely invented the concept, and had an electronics specialist work out the tuning mechanism. But she deserves the lion’s share of the credit because one requirement for a patent is that the device not be obvious to anyone skilled in the art. Once the technician had a definition of what Hedy wanted, the rest is routine (obvious to one skilled in the art of making radio transmitters and receivers). But the concept of a synchronized wandering radio frequency was not obvious to the technicians and engineers or they would have thought of it first.

Lots of women are excellent inventors, and it’s only that they’ve come to accept the myth of male superiority in the area of inventing that holds them back.

I recently read an account of how tryouts used to be done for musicians to be hired for symphony orchestras. Inevitably the men were picked, and only if no men were available might a woman have a chance. Then, an orchestra was looking for a cello player, I believe, and the directors’ daughter was such a player. To make sure that there was no favoritism shown, they had the players play behind a screen. And the young woman was chosen over a number of men. This was a revelation, and certain orchestras began using it (grudgingly) for all tryouts. Today, there is little prejudice in the selection of such musicians, and we see a good mix of men and woman---young and old---white, black and Asian.

There was a time when women couldn’t own property. Apparently intellectual property was included. A woman who invented something traditionally surrendered it to her husband to patent as the inventor. One such woman invented a feather duster, which was challenged in court. When her husband had to testify about the invention, he fell on his butt, and it came out that it was his wife’s invention.

Finally, one of our “great American heroes,” Eli Whitney, didn’t invent the cotton gin engine at all. He went to work as a tutor for the kids of a Civil War general who died in action. The wife invented the cotton gin, and showed it to Whitney, who eventually fraudulently patented it.”


There you go. Jack presents us with some very interesting facts.

Nevertheless, in agreement with EG, history reports that not many women ever did anything worth of reporting, at least in inventions.

But, could it be that history was mostly written by men? (Yes.)

We will never know just how many women thought up great ideas, only to have them made by their husbands. Certainly, the record would report at least a few more “ideas” from women than we know.

That’s why it’s so important for all the fathers out there to encourage any daughter that has a proclivity that seems to aim toward a “manly” subject, I say---give her a chance.

So, Mr. Elder: If a man had thought of this idea…would he be given the fame for the concept, even if he had to hire an engineer to work out his designs in his head?

That’s what all inventors do. They come up with stuff that no one has thought of before, (not obvious to one skilled in the art) and if they do not have the “mechanical” expertise to make it, they hire a prototype maker, and explain the concept in drawings. Even Bill Gates did not “build” his many concepts.

The main point as Jack points out, is that no one else had thought of the idea…but Hedy did.

Most artists and creative people will tell you that sometimes, ideas just seem to come out of space….and these “ideas” do not care if you are a man or women.

So Mr. George…I said I’d get back to you…what do you think?

I would also like to thank Jack Lander for taking the time to give me his expert “opinion.”

Nobody’s Perfect: Hedy was married six times. She said in response to her bad record: “I must quit marrying men who feel inferior to me. Somewhere there must be a man who could be my husband and not feel inferior. I need a superior inferior man.” (Amfortas, where were you?)

Nobody Knows; Jack Lander not only has talent in the field of inventing, he has just written a fabulous book called “Not in This Desert.” It’s not in the stores…YET...but it really is an outstanding first novel. I’ll let you know when it comes out. I’ve had a peek at it…lucky me.

Nobody Cares; Because I had a mother who ran a printing company, with thirty employees underneath her…and she could do every job in the plant but lift the paper to feed into the press…

And because I, her daughter, worked in over forty bands, (As a drummer) which consisted of all male musicians…and they always hired me because I was usually the best out of the pick of tryouts…

It’s very hard for me not to believe that women cannot compete with men. (In some jobs of course.)

And that’s why I agree with Jack---Hedy Lamarr was the sole inventor of the idea.

And that’s why she gets the credit, by most all the experts. If the men in Boeing think she was pretty smart, then who is this nobody to argue?


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