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The Black Woman Innovator Who Revolutionized Home Security

Marie Van Brittan Brown was ahead of her time with the invention of the first home security system.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
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Marie Van Brittan Brown

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If you have a home security system, you should thank Marie Van Brittan Brown. She was a Black woman inventor who designed the first home security system more than 50 years ago. While Brown’s invention was a bit ahead of its time and not everyone was ready for it just yet, it created the groundwork for future advancements in security. Even within the past few years, several inventors have referred to her work when describing their own ideas for home security measures. Despite how consequential her invention was, Marie Van Brittan Brown didn’t have a background in technology or security. Read on to learn more about what inspired her to design the system and how it worked.

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Who was Marie Van Brittan Brown?

Marie Van Brittan Brown was born on October 22, 1922, in Queens, New York. Upon finishing her education, Brown became a nurse. She married Albert Brown, an electronics technician. She and her husband had two children: Albert Brown Jr. and Norma Brown. Marie lived in Queens until February 2, 1999, when she died.

What Motivated Brown to invent a security system?

Marie and her husband Albert lived in Jamaica, Queens, which was not the safest neighborhood. As a nurse, her shifts did not match the standard hours that most of her neighbors worked, and she often came home at odd hours. As an electronics technician, Brown’s husband Albert was often away from home at night, meaning that she was not only coming home late, but was home alone.

Feeling safe in your own home is important, but with her odd work hours, the fact that her husband was often gone, and the high crime rate in her neighborhood, Brown didn’t feel safe. All of these factors motivated Brown to take measures to keep her and her home safe. She devised plans and had her husband help with some of the electrical components necessary for the system to work.

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Marie Van Brittan Brown and Albert L. Brown security system design, courtesy U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

How the Home Security System Worked

As mentioned earlier, Brown’s invention was quite advanced, especially for the 1960s. It featured several different components that worked together, allowing Brown to monitor who was outside her door and even talk to them through a speaker.

One essential part of the system was the peepholes along the front of the door. Each of these peepholes were placed at a different level, making it possible to see children and adults of varying heights. A camera was attached along the inside of the door. It was motorized and able to move up and down between the different peepholes. The camera sent video to a monitor, allowing Brown and others to monitor the front porch from within the house.

If visitors, either expected or unexpected, showed up, Brown could communicate with them via the integrated microphone and speaker. She could easily let in welcome guests by unlocking the door with a remote control. For unwanted guests, Brown could tap a button to send an alert to the local police department.

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Marie Van Brittan Brown and husband Albert featured in a New York Times article

The Impact of Brown’s Invention

In 1966, Brown and her husband requested a patent for their home security system. Marie was listed as the lead inventor on the patent application. Though its patent was approved in 1969, Brown’s security system was never produced or sold to the public. The exact reasoning isn’t clear, but it is likely related to how expensive the system would have been and the low likelihood that consumers would be willing to spend that much money on it.

However, despite the fact that Brown never made money from her invention, it played a significant role in the development of future security systems. As many as 35 U.S. patent applicants have referenced her system in their applications. It laid the groundwork to make all of today’s technologically advanced security systems—including remote door locks, video surveillance systems, trigger alarms, and many more—possible. It just goes to show the impact that an invention devised in a garage or home can have on our future.

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Home Security Today

Today, home security is a $56.9 billion dollar industry. It is expected to continue growing, reaching $84.4 billion in 2027. These are numbers that were probably unfathomable to Marie Van Brittan Brown in 1966. Consumers looking to protect their home have several options available to them. They can hire a professional security company to outfit their home with alarms, cameras, motion detectors, and other safeguards. Alternatively, there are several DIY security systems, such as Ring, Wyze, and SimpliSafe, that individuals can purchase and install on their own.