Black History Month: Marie Van Brittan Brown

Marie Van Brittan Brown
Marie Van Brittan Brown

by Christian Johnson

Marie Van Brittan Brown was born on October 30, 1922 in Jamaica, Queens, New York. Not much is known about her life but it seems that she led a typical life of an African American woman of her time. By the age of 43, Marie was married to her husband Albert Brown. Her husband worked as an electrician while she herself worked as a nurse. Due to both of them working odd hour jobs, they usually were home at separate times. The violent crime was rising in the city, and this led to Marie developing a fear of being home by herself.

Using her husband’s knowledge as an electrician, Marie began to develop an idea that would allow her to feel safer at home while he was away. Brown did not live in a good neighborhood. People were constantly knocking on the door at night. Going to the door not knowing whether it was just a friend or a drug addict asking for money was always a fear for Brown and many other women during the 60s. Brown knew that being able to see who was knocking would calm most of her fear of being alone. She developed the idea of the first home security system. Her system included 3 peepholes. One hole to view a tall person, another hole to view an average sized person, and another hole to view children. Attached to the door was a camera that would slide up and down to toggle between the peepholes to allow the homeowner to view on a television screen. The system was also equipped with audio to allow for communication between the homeowner and guest. If the visitor was a friend, the door was equipped to unlock with a remote button. The final feature included an alarm that would alert the neighborhood and police if the viewer felt unsafe. This invention required the creation of a closed circuit television which was the first of its kind. This sounds similar to what many of us may have in our homes today, but this was back in the 60s!

She received a patent for this invention in 1969. The idea was huge at the time and she was featured in the New York Times. She also received several awards. Brown created the idea just so people could feel safer at home, but many businesses started to use the idea as well. Brown’s idea has led to the creation of modern day security systems that are used in millions of homes and businesses all over the world. It’s unclear as to whether she and her husband received any money for the invention although the general consensus is they did not. In 1999, Brown passed away at the age of 76 but left behind a huge legacy that allows many of us to sleep safer at night. Please allow her life, story, and legacy inspire you to go forth and be great.

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