Marie Van Brittan Brown

Pronouns
She/her
Title
Inventor
Bio/Description

This scientist is most known for...  nursing and invention of the home security system.

Active Research Era:  20th century

Date of Death: 1999

More information:

Brown was born in Queens, New York, on October 22, 1922, and resided there until her death on February 2, 1999, at age seventy-six. Her father was born in Massachusetts and her mother was from Pennsylvania.1  Brown was the mother of two children, one of whom, Norma Brown, went on to become a nurse and inventor.2

Brown was a 43-year-old African American nurse who worked long, late hours before returning home to Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Her husband, Albert Brown, an electronics technician, was away many nights. Crime in their neighborhood was high, and police were often slow to respond to emergency calls.3

To combat the high crime rates in Queens Marie decided to take action. Enlisting her husband’s electrical expertise, Marie conceived a contraption that could be affixed to the front door. It would offer four peepholes, and through these, a motorized video camera on the inside could view visitors of different heights as the occupant toggled the camera up and down. The camera was connected to a television monitor inside. A microphone on the outside of the door and a speaker inside allowed an occupant to interrogate a visitor, while an alarm could alert police via radio. Closed-circuit television, invented during World War II for military use, was not widespread in the 1960s, and the Browns proposed using the technology to create the first modern home security system.

They filed a patent for their device in 1966, citing Marie as lead inventor. It was approved three years later. “The equipment is not in production,” the New York Times reported, “but the Browns hope to interest manufacturers and home builders.

Patent application for bedside door security camera, sketched in black, white, and orange

The Browns' 1969 patent plan for an elaborate home security system suggests safety and relaxation can go hand in hand. (Marie Van Brittan Brown and Albert L. Brown, courtesy U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

That never happened, presumably because the Browns’ system was ahead of its time. “The cost of installing it would be pretty high,” says Robert McCrie, an emergency management expert at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

Marie’s invention, though it didn’t benefit them financially, would earn the Browns a measure of recognition in the tech world: The predecessor of today’s home security systems, it has been cited in 35 U.S. patents. Companies first offered CCTV to residential consumers around 2005, but Marie never saw her vision realized; she died in Queens in 1999, at the age of 76.

As the tech has become cheaper and smarter, home security has grown into a $4.8 billion business in North America and is expected to triple by 2024.3

Security home system

1Rebecca Hill, ‘Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999) •’, 11 April 2016, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brit….

Stephanie Buck, ‘This African American Woman Invented Your Home Security System’, Medium, 13 June 2017, https://timeline.com/marie-van-brittan-brown-b63b72c415f0.

3 Rebecca Hill, ‘Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999) •’, 11 April 2016, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/brown-marie-van-brit….