The contributions of the Black man to the technological advancements of humanity has been one aspect of history, and current affairs that are often downplayed or kept in the dark. So that makes us proud to bring the achievements of women like Marie to the knowledge of our people and the world at large.
Living in a neighbourhood that was prone to crime, with little or no Police intervention, Marie Van Brittan Brown, feeling very uncomfortable with the situation, took it upon herself to patent the modern home security system. And that technological invention has been in use all over the world, for more than 50 years.
She was a nurse, and her husband was an electronics technician. She worked long hours and often got back home at night – to a crime-prone neighbourhood of Jamaica, Queens, in New York City. Her husband, Albert Brown, was hardly home on many nights due to the nature of his work. His absence and that of the police (in the neighbourhood) prompted her to desire a way to see and hear who was at the door from anywhere she was in the house.
So, in 1966, she designed a closed-circuit security system which principally monitored visitors to her home through a camera that showed their image on a television screen. She also added a panic button which would immediately contact the police station.
Her invention was in such a way that cameras would slide over three to four peepholes, which were connected to radio-controlled wireless systems, that in turn transfer the image from the camera to the monitor inside the house.
Her design made it possible to see the person at the door, and also talk to the person through a two-way microphone. The icing on the cake was a remote control which allowed her to unlock or lock the door from a position of safety inside the house.
On the 1st of August 1966, Marie Van Brittan Brown filed the patent for her “home security system utilizing television surveillance”. Her husband’s name got the second billing on the patent, and the rest is glorious history.
Many around the world were marvelled at the ingenuity of Marie and the solution her invention had brought to the world. She was able to draw inspiration from an existing closed-circuit television technology which was majorly used for military surveillance at the time.
Earlier in 1942, a German engineer, named Walter Burch, designed and invented a camera-monitoring system, which was used to observe the testing of the NAZI V-2 rockets from a safe distance. The integration of this system into her security system brought the “CCTV” system into the home and unavoidably, offices, round the world.
On December 2, 1969, she was awarded her patent, and on December 2 of that same year, The New York Times. The paper listed the name of her husband first, and then her name followed second. In an interview, she was asked what her next steps were, and she was optimistic that she would install the device in their house in Queens, and also explore options in mass production of the security system.
Although from many indications she ended up not pursuing commercial opportunities for her patent. If she did, her family would have been one of the wealthiest in the African-American community.
What is most important here for us, at the end of the day, is the fact that she was instrumental in the provision of security in many homes and offices around the world. Her contributions to the world will never be forgotten.
Her invention has made it possible for over a dozen inventors to replicate and improve on the home security system. She was later given an award by the National Scientists Committee. Thanks to her, over 100 million concealed cameras are now used worldwide to keep people more secure and safe.