Int’l Women’s Day: Reflecting on the legacy of Marie Van Brittan Brown, inventor of the home security system

BY Nii Ntreh March 8, 2024 10:55 AM EDT
Marie Van Brittan Brown. Photo Credit: Family of Marie Van Brittan Brown

This year’s International Women’s Day is on the theme “Investing in women: Accelerate progress”. In the 21st century, there can not be more emphatic ways for this to be possible than investing in women’s capacity building in the new frontiers of technology and digitalization. But decades before the era of virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence, some women were trailblazing on the edges of innovation.

In the heart of Jamaica, Queens, New York, during the 1960s, Marie Van Brittan Brown, a dedicated nurse, and wife to electronics technician Albert Brown, confronted the unsettling issue of neighborhood security. With Albert often away due to his work, Marie found herself alone on many nights, which led to an urgent need for safety in the face of high crime rates in her community.

During the 1960s, these heightened crime rates in Queens, New York, created an environment where safety concerns were paramount. As a devoted wife and mother of two, Marie, driven by the necessity for a solution, embarked on the revolutionary journey of inventing the world’s first home security system.
Collaborating with her electrician husband, she devised a groundbreaking solution that would not only redefine personal security but also leave an indelible mark on the trajectory of technological innovation in many facets of society.

Marie’s invention, crafted with the expertise of her husband, addressed the security challenge head on. The key features of her invention included a peephole, a sliding camera, a television monitor, and a microphone – all ingeniously designed to enable her and her household to communicate with
visitors without opening their doors and thereby compromising their safety.

On August 1, 1966, Marie and Albert submitted a patent application for their invention, a pioneering moment that marked the inception of a new era in home security. Three years later, the government granted them the first patent of its kind. The New York Times showcased Marie’s revolutionary invention in one of their articles, propelling her into the spotlight. The National Scientists Committee also recognized her outstanding achievement with a well-deserved award.

However, the path to commercializing the home security system invented by the Browns was not without challenges. The initial hurdles stemmed from the implementation costs associated with the product. Undeterred, Marie persevered, and her invention gradually gained traction, becoming a staple in not just homes but businesses as well.

Following the triumph of her closed-circuit television security system, Marie continued to push the boundaries of home security technology. Her innovative additions included a remote unlocking system for doors and a feature that swiftly contacted the police and emergency responders at the touch of a button, addressing the inherent delays in traditional response mechanisms.

Acknowledging the contributions of other collaborating inventors, Marie and Albert cited figures like Edward D. Phinney and Thomas J. Reardon in their subsequent patents. The impact of Marie’s invention extends far beyond her lifetime, as her pioneering spirit paved the way for advanced security systems used in critical areas like banks and influenced modern technologies such as CCTV surveillance. Marie Van Brittan Brown’s visionary creation remains in use today, embraced by smaller businesses and living facilities, a testament to its enduring relevance and efficacy. Following her passing in 1999 at the age of 76, Marie’s legacy endures as a trailblazer who laid the foundation for a safer society.

In a world where security is paramount, Marie’s invention has become a cornerstone. According to Statista, prediction for the global smart home security market was valued at approximately 32.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2024 and is forecasted to nearly double to around 62 billion U.S. dollars by 2029.

Marie Van Brittan Brown’s pioneering contribution stands as a beacon, guiding the evolution of home security and shaping the landscape of a technology-driven, secure future.