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Drew: Meet the Black Woman Who Invented Home Security Systems

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

With March being National Women’s Month, each safety article has highlighted an African American woman who has improved everyday safety for millions of individuals, both at home and abroad. Their intellect and innovations have vastly impacted safety in ways we often take for granted.
The initial March safety article highlighted a 36-year-old Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who developed the Moderna vaccine to fight against the spread of COVID-19. Last week’s safety article focused on inventor Alice H. Parker, who developed a patent that was the precursor to the modern heating zone systems and thermostats, thus eliminating the need for fireplaces burning throughout the night.
This week’s safety article will focus on Marie Van Brittan Brown who designed a front door security system, complete with a camera, speakers, and alarm. Brown was born in 1922 in Queens, New York where she lived until her death on Feb. 2, 1999. Her father was born in Massachusetts and her mother was from Pennsylvania. Mrs. Brown was married to Albert Brown, and they were parents to two children.
Brown was a nurse by profession and her husband Albert Brown was an electronic technician. Like many in the medical profession, she did not work the typical 9-5 shift. Rarely did she and her husband’s work schedule coincide. Crime in her Jamaica, Queens neighborhood was high, and the police were known to be slow in their response. Thereby, feeling uneasy and vulnerable, Mrs. Brown decided to take matters into her own hands. She invented a home safety security system.
In 1966, Mrs. Brown designed a closed-circuit security system that monitored visitors via camera and projected their images onto a television monitor. Her invention also had a panic button to contact the police immediately. She got assistance from her husband and developed a safety system that was affixed to the front door. It would offer four peepholes, each at varied heights. Through these holes, a motorized video camera on the inside could view visitors of different heights. The camera was connected to a television monitor inside.
A microphone on the outside of the door and speaker inside allowed an occupant to speak with a visitor, while an alarm could alert police via radio. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) 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 in 1966 with Mrs. Brown listed as the chief inventor. The Browns proved safety and relaxation could exist together. It was believed their invention was ahead of its time. Mrs. Brown’s invention, though it did not benefit them financially, earned the Browns recognition in the technology world. Their invention was perceived to be too costly for mass production in the 1960s.
The Browns’ invention is a predecessor to today’s home security systems which help us Keep an Eye on Safety both at home and work. The invention has been cited in 35 U.S. patents. Companies first offered CCTV to residential consumers around 2005. Unfortunately, Brown never saw her vision realized since she died in 1999, at the age of 76. With technology becoming cheaper and smarter, home security has grown into a $4.8 billion industry.