Marie Van Brittan Brown (October 30, 1922 – February 2, 1999) was an American nurse and innovator. In 1966, she invented a video home security system[1] along with her husband Albert Brown, an electronics technician.[2] In the same year, they applied for a patent for their innovative security system, which was granted in 1969. Her innovation has had a huge impact on the entire security system. Her idea has expanded beyond just security for those at home, and her ideas can be seen with security systems in businesses around the world. Brown was born in Jamaica, Queens, New York;[3] she died there at the age of 76 in 1999.


Marie Van Brittan Brown (October 30, 1922 – February 2, 1999) was an American nurse. In 1966, she and her husband Albert L. Brown, an electronics technician, invented an audio-video home security system[1][2] That same year they applied for a patent for their security system. It was granted three years later in 1969. Brown was born in Jamaica, Queens, New York.[3] She died there on February 2, 1999 aged seventy-six.[2][4]

Marie Van Brittan Brown
Born(1922-10-30)October 30, 1922
DiedFebruary 2, 1999(1999-02-02) (aged 76)
Jamaica, Queens, New York
Known forPatenting a home video security system.
SpouseAlbert L. Brown
ChildrenNorma and Albert Jr.


Marie Van Brittan Brown's father was born in Massachusetts and her mother was from Pennsylvania. Both were African-American. Not much is known about the early life of Marie. She married an electronics technician, Albert L. Brown, also African-American. The couple lived at 151–158 & 135th Avenue in Jamaica, Queens, New York.[5] She had no siblings.[6] Marie and Albert had two children. Their daughter also became a nurse and inventor.[7]

Home security system

The Browns had irregular work hours that often did not overlap. Marie was a nurse and Albert was an electronics technician. The crime rate in her neighborhood was very high and the police typically took a lot of time to arrive in her neighborhood. This led the Browns to invent their home audio-video security system.[3]


On August 1, 1966, the Browns submitted a patent application for their invention. Their attorneys were Polacheck and Saulsbury, a New York firm.[1]

The invention consisted, at the door, of an electrically controlled lock, several lensed peepholes with covers, a vertically sliding video scanner (camera) and controlling motors, loudspeaker and microphone as well as associated electronics, filters, power supply, radio receiver and transmitter. The camera could be remotely moved from peephole to peephole, mechanically uncovering and recovering them as it went. The camera was connected by radio to a television monitor mounted on a control panel inside the home. The television monitor allowed the occupant to see who was at the door without opening it while the microphones and loudspeakers allowed the occupant to communicate radiophonically with the visitor. A series of filters on the door receiver allowed commands from push buttons on the control panel to be transmitted by radio to control the position of the camera and operate the lock.

The patent also mentions the possibility of forwarding sound or vision to a security center, or recording them. A pushbutton alarm system to contact police or others is also included. The patent cited other inventors, including Edward D. Phinney and Thomas J. Reardon, as well as RCA's Closed Circuit Television Systems, Book I, pp. 182-186, 1958.[5]

The patent was granted December 2, 1969. Four days later, the New York Times reported on the invention in the weekly patents report, including a photo of the Browns.[4][8] Marie was quoted in the New York Times as saying that with her invention "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 holdups by drug addicts."[6]

After the patent was approved in 1969, media coverage stopped.[6]

State of technology at the time

The majority of the components of the system were well known. For example US3,480,727, approved a month or so before the Brown patent, describes a wired system with audio, video and lock control, the novel feature being in this case the ability to pass all the signals on a single wire. Similarly Harris Hull's patent (US3,440,635) is for a radio press-button alarm which sends a coded signal to alert nearby receivers. AT&T had promoted experimental video for telephony at the 1939 World's Fair, in the mid 1960s public videophone booths were set up in Grand Central Station. Domestic entryway CCTV was limited by price, costing around $1,000 for a system, making it unsuitable for most single dwellings, although many apartments had such a system, where the cost per unit was less (as they shared the entryway equipment) and was offset by the increased value of the apartments, and hence increased rent, and, in some cases, savings on door staff.

Claim of the patent

The novelty of the patent lies in the combination of the components into a system, and that is what is claimed. Specifically:

1. A security system for protecting the interior of a place of residence having an entrance door, comprising a plurality of windows in the door disposed in vertically spaced array; protective plates covering the windows, respectively; means pivotally supporting said plates on the door to clear each of the windows; a cabinet containing a video scanning device; gear means movably supporting the cabinet to move in a vertical path at the door; motor means in the cabinet engaged with said gear means to drive the video scanning device in said vertical path past the windows while the cabinet pivots each protective plate in turn to clear its associated window for exposing said video scanning device at the cleared window; a video signal transmitter in said cabinet connected to said video scanning device to send a picture of a scanned field in front of each cleared window in turn to a remote location in the interior of said place of residence; radio receiver means in said cabinet; radio transmitter means at said remote location for sending radio signals to said radio receiver; power supply means connected to said motor means for energizing the same to drive the video scanning device up and down; and switch means connected in circuit with said power supply and said radio receiver means for turning on the motor means selectively in response to receipt of a signal from said radio transmitter means, whereby the field in front of each cleared window is scanned in turn.


While they hoped to interest manufacturers and home builders, they did not succeed.[9] The cost of the equipment at that time would have been very high.[9] The Browns proposed to build the system in their home, to increase interest.[6]


The Brown's patent has been cited in 38 patent applications, as of July 2024.[1]


  1. ^ a b c U.S. patent 3,482,037
  2. ^ a b Baderinwa, Sade (2021-02-23). "Marie Van Brittan Brown of Queens invented the home security system". ABC7 New York. Archived from the original on 2021-02-23. Retrieved 2021-03-08.
  3. ^ a b "Inventor Marie Van Brittan Brown born | African American Registry". Archived from the original on 2016-03-01. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  4. ^ a b Buck, Stephanie (2017-06-13). "This African American woman invented your home security system". Timeline. Archived from the original on 2020-06-10. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  5. ^ a b Home security system utilizing television surveillance, 1966-08-01, archived from the original on 2019-02-25, retrieved 2018-04-11
  6. ^ a b c d Kelly, Kate (2015-02-13). "Marie Van Brittan Brown: Home Security System Inventor". America Comes Alive. Archived from the original on 2021-03-07. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  7. ^ "Brown, Marie Van Brittan (1922–1999) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". 11 April 2016. Archived from the original on 2018-04-18. Retrieved 2018-04-11.[better source needed]
  8. ^ "TimesMachine: Saturday December 6, 1969 -". Archived from the original on 2020-12-12. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  9. ^ a b Hilgers, Laura. "A Brief History of the Invention of the Home Security Alarm". Smithsonian Magazine. Archived from the original on 2021-05-16. Retrieved 2021-07-08.

Further reading

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