Forgotten Black Couple Who Created Your Home Security Alarm System

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Marie Van Brittan Brown Albert Brown alarm system e1354470439481 photo

Marie Brown and her husband, Albert L. Brown

AFRICANGLOBE – Recently, while I was on vacation, our daughter took our dog, Cali, for a play date with her four canines, two of which are wild animals.

I asked if she planned to bring our dog back home before she went to work the next day, and she sighed heavily. That is usually a sign I have stepped into the virtual world of the non-trainable elderly.

“Mother,” she said, “you can go get her anytime. You are just scared of the burglar alarm.”

Yes. Justifiably so. My encounters with it have made me truly dislike that device.

Twice I have met armed police officers as I departed from my daughter’s abode. Twice it was because I had forgotten to turn off the alarm, which had silently signaled to a security company that my intentions were those of a burglar.

It really is not good for older folk to emerge from a place of assumed safety and be greeted by someone who could shoot them. We have leakage problems.

I tell you that now because I have evolved. I have seen the light. Well, at least I no longer curse home security devices since discovering while surfing the Internet that a black couple in Jamaica in New York City’s Queens borough invented the first one.

Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert L. Brown, are credited with creating a system including a motorized camera that showed images on a monitor viewable by homeowners safely inside their home. It was basically the first closed-circuit television security system, the forerunner to the modern home systems today.

Not only could the homeowner see what was happening outside, but he could also press an alarm that could be heard in the neighborhood or use a remote control to open the front door if a visitor was expected.

The Browns’ home security system was fairly large; the camera track and circuit board took up a great deal of space on the wall to which it was attached.

Early Days of the Alarm System

The couple invented the device in 1966 and received a patent in 1969. Although the idea is common now, such a device for the home was unheard of in the 1960s.

Marie Brown told The New York Times the couple invented the device because police were slow in responding to emergencies in their neighborhood. There had been an uptick in crime, and Marie Brown wanted to feel safer while at home alone.

The Times reported the “audio-video alarm system” could be used to see who was at the door and interview them as well.

“With the patented system, a woman alone in the house could alarm the neighborhood immediately by pressing a button, and, installed in a doctor’s office, it might prevent holdups by drug addicts,” according to the story.

I wanted to know more about the Browns, but not much is available for Marie Brown and even less for her husband. Had it not been for Joseph Ditta, reference librarian at The New-York Historical Society’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, I wouldn’t have found that article.

Most of the information concerning the patent is attributed to Marie Brown, a nurse who worked at night. Albert Brown, however, was an electronics technician and probably the genius behind the logistics.

Still, Marie Brown is and will be referred to as the inventor because her name appears first on the patent. But patent rules indicate the first named inventor does not have any more rights to the patent than others listed. The law says they all have an equal share regardless of how they contributed to the invention.

Marie Brown was born on Oct. 30, 1922, in Queens and died on Feb. 2, 1999 in Queens. She was 76.

She is noted in Black Stars: African American Women Scientists and Inventors by Otha Richard Sullivan in case there are school children looking for a new person to research during Black History Month.

Learning about the Browns is another reason we all should urge teachers to encourage students to look further than the usual suspects like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks.

I had no clue the Browns had been instrumental in the area of home security.

The more we can show the contributions Black people have made in America, the quicker we can end bigoted stereotypes.

 

By; Merlene Davis