We are often defined by our looks, careers, background or any other aspect you can think of. When we succumb to these stereotypes we miss out not only pursuing our true interests but also our passions. This could lead to missing out on opportunities for ourselves and even others, as history has shown examples of people changing the world for better through their hobbies.

Just look at Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood starlet whose inventing hobby ended up forever changing the world of communication technology.

Hedy Lamarr lived a life in the spotlight. The Austrian-born actress became famous in the 1930s after appearing in a German film that contained brief nudity (which was shocking at the time.) In 1937, she emigrated to the United States and began a career in Hollywood. She starred alongside the likes of Clark Gable and Judy Garland, reaching the height of her fame as the star of Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah. She is still known as one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women.

By the 1940s, the Hollywood life began to bore Lamarr. She wasn’t a party girl; during her spare time, she liked to invent. Lamarr wasn’t formally trained in math and science but had always been encouraged by her father to explore machinery. Her drawing room contained a small corner with drafting tools and everything she needed to invent. This hobby was usually kept hidden from the public; she was widely recognized for her beauty, with a mind and passion that went unnoticed.

During World War II, her first husband was an arms dealer who she described as very controlling. Her move to Paris, and then the United States was an escape from this marriage. Lamarr was terrified of Nazis, and her new life in America allowed her to explore her hobby of inventing while contributing to the war efforts. She, along with co-inventor George Antheil, explored the idea of frequency hopping so that Nazis wouldn’t be able to intercept their radio signals. This was a major issue for radio-controlled torpedoes which could easily be jammed by enemy forces and go off course. They received a patent for the invention in 1942.

At the time, frequency hopping technology was expensive. The American army didn’t take advantage of Lamarr’s’ patent with Antheil. However, as communication technology advanced, frequency hopping became extremely useful. It is the basis for how we securely communicate through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Everyone who has an internet connection or uses a GPS can do so due to the work of Hedy Lamarr.

Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil, who in 1942 received patent number 2,292,387 for their “Secret Communications System.”

Lamarr is considered a leader and role model for women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) fields. She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a spot in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Recently, a journalist found lost interview tapes with Lamarr, which is the basis for Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, a documentary about her double life as actress and inventor released this year. Google also honored her life with a special Doodle on her 101st birthday.

Despite having all the pressures and opportunities of a Hollywood starlet, Hedy Lamarr was able to pursue her hobby as an inventor and change the world of technology as we know it. Anyone, no matter what profession they have, how they look to the outside world, or how they were brought up, can (and should!) pursue their hobbies. Despite all the benefits and entertainment hobbies offer us, just remember it’s quite possible to make a lasting difference to the world through them.

Hedy Lamarr

Disonorata, 1947