Information Pioneers: Hedy Lamarr and Konrad Zuse

You’ve probably heard of the 1930s and ’40s screen star Hedy Lamarr, but you may not know about her fascinating contribution to science. If you’ve never heard of Konrad Zuse, that’s understandable, but it’s way past time you learned about him!

Google paid tribute to Zuse with this odd logo on June 22, 2010, the 100th anniversary of the German inventors birthday.

Google paid tribute to Zuse with this odd logo on June 22, 2010, the 100th anniversary of the German inventor’s birth.

The German engineer Konrad Zuse was born in Germany in 1910. Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria in 1913. They were European contemporaries, but their lives took very different paths. Zuse lived all of his very productive life in Germany. Lamarr left Austria in 1937 to become a Hollywood movie star at MGM.

But in another way, they had something in common: They both had to wait until late in their lives to gain the recognition they deserved for their scientific work, achievements they both made during the war, Lamarr in California, Zuse in Germany.

Hedy Lamarr was 83 and retired in Florida when in 1997 the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) honored her and her co-inventor George Antheil with an award for the “frequency hopping” electronics technology they developed to guide torpedoes. Long after their patent had expired, the same technology came to be used for cell phones and other electronic devices.

Konrad Zuse was honored several times for his computer work before his death in 1995, and again posthumously in 1999. Despite working in the almost total intellectual isolation of Germany during World War II, Zuse managed to invent several computers, including the Z3, the first fully operational programmable digital electro-mechanical computer, which Zuse completed in 1941.

We recently linked to the Information Pioneers website from our Lamarr and Zuse pages (see links below), encouraging our readers to vote for their candidates for the top information technology pioneers, including Lamarr and Zuse. BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, today announced the results of that voting for the “Top 150 IT Greats.” The public voting has resulted in Alan Turing being named the “Ultimate Information Pioneer.” Turing is most famous for his WWII work on cracking the German Enigma code.

Hedy Lamarr was included in one of five short films made for Information Pioneers that highlight individuals whose achievements contributed to creating the information society that we live in today. The public was asked to vote on the films, as well as the list of 150 ‘IT Greats’, to find the Ultimate Pioneer and IT Great.

Anthony Loder, Hedy Lamarr’s son, said of the film highlighting the star’s achievements:

“No matter how hard I tried, I could not come up with even one, slight suggestion to improve this short film about my mother. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. You succeeded in making Hedy’s idea easy to grasp. Bravo!”

The Hedy Lamarr short film and four others can still be seen and shared at the site. The other subjects are: Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Sir Clive Sinclair and Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the man who created the World Wide Web).

A final top five “Greats” list includes Zuse:

  1. Andy Stanford-Clark: IT research engineer, specializing in telemetry and public/subscribe messaging; also leads a research team at IBM
  2. Konrad Zuse: Engineer and computer pioneer who created world’s first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer, the Z3
  3. Alan Turing: Influential in the development of the computer algorithm; broke codes during World War II
  4. Gordon Moore: Co-founder of Intel
  5. Donald Knuth: Called the “father” of the analysis of algorithms and made fundamental contributions in several branches of theoretical computer science

Here at the German Way site you can learn more about Lamarr and Zuse on these pages: