STEM History:

Marie Van Brittan Brown


Nurse and Innovator

Birth/Death Dates

October 30, 1922 – February 2, 1999


In 1966, Brown invented a video home security system along with her husband Albert Brown, an electronics technician. In the same year, they applied for a patent for their innovative security system, which was granted in 1969. Brown’s innovation has had a huge impact on the entire security system landscape. Her idea, which has expanded beyond just security for homes, has influenced security systems in businesses around the world.

When Brown and her husband first came up with their security system, the invention consisted of four peepholes, a sliding camera, TV monitors, and microphones. The cameras could go from peephole to peephole. These cameras were connected to the TV monitors inside their home, and using those TV monitors, Marie could see exactly who was at her door, without having to physically be at the door and without having to open the door. The microphones also played a vital part in her invention, as with them she could talk with whoever was outside, without having to open the door and be face to face with whoever was there. Brown lived in an area with high crime, and this invention allowed her to feel much safer inside her home.

On August 1, 1966, Brown and her husband submitted a patent application for her invention. It would be the first patent of its kind, and her husband’s name was below hers. The patent was granted by the government on December 2, 1969, and four days later, the New York Times ran an article about her invention.

Educational Background

Brown attended Harrison College, University of Phoenix, and DeVry University in the late 1960s and became a nurse.

Struggles This Inventor Overcame

Marie lived in a time when Black women’s access to education was heavily impeded, and their efforts were hardly acknowledged. She was a nurse, and most likely did not receive formal schooling in electrical engineering.

The Problem That This Inventor Solved

Brown and her husband lived in Jamaica, Queens, New York. The crime rate in their neighborhood was very high and it took the police a long time to arrive when called to their area. Her concern for her safety inspired her to invent the first home security system.

How This Inventor Changed the World

Marie Van Brittan Brown’s home security system invention has had a huge impact on the security system business. Her idea was extremely innovative at the time. Others later built upon her idea to create the security systems of today. In February of 2021, Broadcast Journalist, Sade Baderinwa, reported that “if you have a ‘home security system’ protecting your home, you have an African American woman from Queens (Marie Van Brittan Brown) to thank” (Baderinwa, 2021). Modern security brands such as ADT and Ring, also have Brown to thank for the initial idea, which grew into the security systems that are used today to help people around the world feel safer and more secure inside their homes.

Lasting Impact

Lasting changes from this inventor’s work or how they trailblazed
Brown was recognized in the New York Times and received an award from the National Scientists Committee for her work. Unfortunately, she died before she could see many of the innovations which later enhanced her invention. However, her impact will never be forgotten. Today’s security systems, for homes as well as businesses, can all be traced back to her invention. As more security systems came to the market, Brown’s initial invention became even more influential. Her invention was cited in at least 32 later patent applications.