Home security on Brown’s mind
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African descendants and a time for recognising the central role of Blacks in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Each year beginning on February 1, a number of events are planned honouring the contributions of Blacks around the world. Today the WEEKEND NATION continues its series with a look at the life of home security pioneer Marie Van Brittan Brown.
by SANDRA SEALEY
Today, many homeowners go about their various activities – work, sleep and play – with a sense of confidence that their trusted home security system will keep them and their belongings safe and alert authorities to any breaches. But how many have spared a moment to consider how it all came about?
It all started in the 1960s with an African American woman who needed a way to feel safer in her apartment.
Specifically, she wanted a way to see and hear who was at the door – from any room in the house.
Marie Van Brittan Brown was a 43-year-old nurse who was born on October 30, 1922, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, New York. Her father was born in Massachusetts and her mother’s roots originated from Pennsylvania.
Like most nurses, Brown did not work the regular nine to five hours and her husband, Albert Brown, an electronics technician, was away many nights, so after working late Brown often found herself alone in her home. Crime in their Queens, New York neighbourhood was high, and police were often slow to respond to emergency calls.
In 1966, Brown designed a closedcircuit security system that monitored visitors via camera and projected their images onto a television monitor.
Brown’s security system was the basis for the two-way communication and surveillance features of modern security. Her original invention comprised peepholes, a camera, monitors, and a two-way microphone.
The final element was an alarm button that could be pressed to contact the police immediately.
Three peepholes were placed on the front door at different height levels.
The top one was for tall persons, the bottom one was for children, and the middle one was for anyone of average height. At the opposite side of the door a camera was attached with the ability to slide up and down to allow the person to see through each peephole.
The camera picked up images that would reflect on the monitor via a wireless system. The monitor could be placed in any part of the house to allow you to see who was at the door.
There was also a voice component to enable Brown to speak to the person outside. If the person was perceived to be an intruder, the police would be notified with the push of a button. If the person was a welcome or expected visitor, the door could be unlocked via remote control.
Marie and Albert filed for a patent on August 1, 1966, under the title Home Security System Utilizing Television Surveillance. Their application was approved on December 2, 1969.
Brown’s invention gained her well deserved recognition, including an award from the National Scientists Committee (no year for the award can be identified) and an interview with the New York Times on December 6, 1969. In the interview, Brown pointed out that with the patented system, “a woman alone could set off an alarm immediately by pressing a button, or if the system were installed in a doctor’s office, it might prevent hold-ups by drug addicts.
Brown’s invention laid the foundation for later security systems that make use of its features such as video monitoring, remotecontrolled door locks, push-button alarm triggers, instant messaging to security providers and police, as well as two-way voice communication. The popularity and potential of Brown’s device also led to the more prevalent CCTV surveillance in public areas, aka Big Brother.
According to a report in the 2016 edition of New Scientist, 100 million concealed closed-circuit cameras are now in operation worldwide, so today we’re the ones being watched, whether we knocked or not.
Her invention is still used by small businesses, small offices, single-family homes, and multi-unit dwellings such as apartments and condos. The Browns’ patent was later referenced by 13 other inventors, including some as recently as 2013.
Brown was the mother of two children, Albert Jr and Norma, who went on to become a nurse and inventor. She died in Queens on February 2, 1999 at the age of 76.
Marie Van Brittan Brown