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Home Security - Marie Van Brittan Brown

In 1966, Marie Van Brittan Brown along with her husband Albert Brown invented a home security system. Although this was not the first closed-circuit television (CCTV) system, their system was a forerunner of all advanced home security technology in use today. The Brown’s patent (# 3,482,037) was granted in 1969.


Closed-circuit television (CCTV), also known as video surveillance is the use of video cameras to transmit a signal to a specific place, on a limited set of monitors. Though almost all video cameras fit this definition, the term is most often applied to those used for surveillance in locations that may need monitoring such as bars, banks, casinos, schools, hotels, airports, hospitals, restaurants, military installations, convenience stores and other areas where security is needed.

The first CCTV system was installed by Siemens AG at Test Stand VII in Peenemünde, Nazi Germany in 1942, for observing the launch of V-2 rockets





In the U.S. the first commercial closed-circuit

television system became available in 1949,

called Vericon. Very little is known about

Vericon except it was advertised as not

requiring a government permit.

The Browns’ system had a set of 4 peep-holes and a camera that could slide up and down to look through each one. The system included a device that enabled a homeowner to use a television set to view the person at the door and hear the caller's voice.































Also, a resident could unlatch the door by remote control. Although the system was originally intended for domestic uses, many businesses began to adopt her system due to its effectiveness.


Marie Van Brittan Brown was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. She became a nurse, who like most nurses, did not work regular 9-5 hours. Her husband, Albert Brown, was an electronics technician.  When she was home alone at odd hours of the day or night, she sometimes felt concerned. The crime rate in their neighborhood had increased, and everyone in the neighborhood knew that police response time in their area was not as prompt as area residents desired.  Ms. Brown cited this response time as an inspiration for her invention.


Marie wanted a way to feel less vulnerable. Mrs. 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 holdups by drug addicts.”


Working with her husband, Albert, the two began devising a home security system. One issue that bothered Marie was having to answer the door to identify a visitor. Soon they had a plan for a motorized camera that was attached to a cabinet added to the door.  The camera could move up and down to take views through four separate peep holes. The top spot would reveal the identity of a tall person; the lowest one would show if a child was at the door. The other peep holes could capture any person between these two heights.


A television monitor was placed in the Browns’ bedroom, and Albert invention, Marie Van Brittan Brown used a radio-controlled wireless system to feed the images seen at the door back to the monitor. A two-way microphone also permitted conversation with the person at the door.


If the homeowner was concerned about the person at the door, a button could be pushed that would sound an alarm to signal a security firm, a neighborhood watchman, or it could alert a nearby neighbor.  If, however, the person was a friend, a button could be pushed that would unlock the door remotely so that the visitor could come in.


As anyone who has visited an apartment in recent times knows, units exactly like the one the Browns invented are used in multi-dwelling buildings throughout the country.  Today the technology for such a system has shrunk drastically, but the systems function  in the same manner.


In the mid-1960s no one was creating home surveillance systems.  Therefore, Marie and Albert were applying for a patent on what would truly be a “first.”  In citing the patents that their application relied upon in order to create the system, the Browns noted only three previous patents. As of 2013, the Browns’ patent is referenced by 13 subsequent inventors who trace their own creation back to having made use of some aspect of the Browns’ closed-circuit system.


In an article in the New York Times, the Browns stated that did not yet have a manufacturer for the system but they intended to install one in their own home, and then would try to interest home builders.



Within a few years residential security systems became ubiquitous.  Next/Market Insights reports that the do-it-yourself home security sector will be a 1.5 billion business by 2020.


Marie Van Brittan Brown died in Queens on February 2, 1999 at the age of 76.  She had two children, one of whom went on to be both a nurse and an inventor; the daughter holds almost a dozen patents, many having to do with aids to help people with health issues.

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