In the early 1960’s in Jamaica Queens, New York, Marie Van Brittan Brown found herself in a unique situation.
She was a nurse, which meant that she’d work long and oftentimes odd hours, not your typical 9-5. Her husband Albert worked as an electronics technician, and due to their conflicting schedules and working opposite hours, Marie would frequently find herself home alone late at night.
In these years the crime rate in Queens was growing and the police had a slow response time. Marie was starting to feel uncomfortable with her lack of safety, and she needed a system that would allow for her to feel more secure. Marie did not want to have to answer the front door to know who was knocking. But what was the solution?
Together, she and her husband envisioned a motorized camera that attached to a cabinet and could be added to a door to see who was there. They devised a way that a camera could move up and down along the door with four separate peep holes. The various peep holes would be placed according to height, and the Browns would immediately know who was at the door.
The tallest hole would be to see taller people at the door, the lowest for kids, and the holes in between for the remaining heights. Four holes in all.
This was the first version of a closed-circuit TV system that could be used for home monitoring, and predated all the home security systems that we use today.
How did the System work?
To make their new home security system work, the Browns placed a TV monitor in their bedroom. With Albert’s electronics background, he was able to send the images from the door to the TV monitor via the radio controlled system. The couple was even able to add a two-way talk feature. Even more incredible, they added a button that would sound an alarm to signal a security firm, a watchman in the neighborhood, or anyone nearby to alert them of an emergency. On top of that, an extra button was added that allowed for them to unlock the door in case a friend stopped by.
On August 1, 1966, from the Browns home of 151-158 and 135th Avenue in Jamaica Queens, New York, their patent was officially filed. The patent called the system a “video and audio security system for a house under control of the occupant thereof.” The patent continued to state that whoever was in the house could see who is at the door and that via an audio system they could chat with guests.
The Browns mentioned three other patents in their application. Edward D. Phinney’s television system (1939), the identification system of Thomas J. Reardon (1959), and a remotely operated control scanning system (1966.)
On December 2, 1969, the Brown’s patent was approved. It was titled, “Home Security System Utilizing Television Surveillance.”
As of today, 13 different inventors and patents have referenced and traced their patents back to the Browns’ closed circuit system. The most recent was in 2013.
This system that the Browns created is most similar to what’s still used in multi unit-dwellings like apartments, condos, and high-rises. You’ll especially see this in older New York City apartments.
Though the Browns were featured in the New York Times in 1969, that appears to be only media attention that they received. We don’t know if the Browns made a profit from their work or not. The National Scientists Committee did award Marie Van Brittan Brown an award for her work, but no year for that award can be identified. Regardless, the Browns left their mark on the home security industry, an industry that according to Next/Market Insights, the DIY home security sector could be a business worth as much as 1.5 billion dollars by 2020.
The great work of the Browns doesn’t end there. One of their daughters went on on to be a nurse and an inventor. This daughter holds almost a dozen of patents herself, many of them having to do with aids for those with health issues.
But, patent number 3,482,037 in 1966 will forever be known as the patent that helped begin the home security industry.