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African American Inventors Who Made Us More Secure

Today, we don’t give traffic signals or security systems a second thought, but when they were first invented, they were ingenious solutions to problems everyone faced. The inventors who made us more secure today are Garret Morgan, Marie Van Brittan Brown, and Dr. Shirley Jackson. These innovators are trailblazers for the Black community whose accomplishments were often overlooked or seized by other people.

At the time, American laws did not specifically prohibit Black inventors from applying for patents, but people who were born into slavery were not considered citizens. Thus enslavers owned these inventions – “fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual”.

In 1812, the first African American granted a U.S. patents was Thomas L. Jennings, an emancipated enslaved person. His emancipation meant that Mr. Jennings’s freedman status (citizen) gave him the means he needed to own his intellectual property.

This month, we’re highlighting three African American inventors who have made our lives much safer with their inventions in the security industry: Garret Morgan, who improved the traffic light;  Marie Van Brittan Brown, who invented a home security system; and Dr. Shirley Jackson, who helped revolutionize telecommunications.

GARRET MORGAN: The Three-Light Traffic Signal, 1923

Garret Morgan, the son of an enslaved parent, invented numerous important inventions which include revamping the sewing machine and the gas mask. In 1916, the International Association of Fire Chiefs awarded a gold medal to a refined model of Morgan’s gas mask at the International Exposition of Sanitation and Safety.

Garrett Morgan Traffic Light Most significant of Morgan’s inventions was an improvement in our traffic lights. Morgan invented the first three-light system, which is the light system we used today. In the 1920s, after seeing a serious traffic accident, Morgan added the “yield” component to the light system. This is our warning cue to slow down for an eventual stop. He applied for the patent for the traffic signal in 1923 and was granted it in 1924 for the U.S., Britain, and Canada. Morgan eventually sold his patent to General Electric for $40,000.


MARIA VAN BRITTEN BROWN: A Home Security System, 1966

Marie VaMarie Van Brittan Brown security systemn Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert Brown, invented a home security system works remarkably like our security camera systems today. Her 1966 invention used a motorized camera that let her look through four peepholes in her front door. She could then view the camera’s images on a TV monitor; it used a two-way microphone to talk with the person outside the door. There was also a button to unlock the door and an emergency alarm button to alert the police.

Van Brittan Brown, a nurse, invented this system to increase her own personal security at home while her husband was away. They lived in Queens, NY and she felt unsafe at night, so she came up with something that gave her peace of mind.

She and her husband took out a patent for the system, and were awarded the patent in 1969.

SHIRLEY JACKSON: Foundational Telecommunications, Present

Dr. Shirley Jackson, 18th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), is a theoretical physicist and was the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Jackson began work at the Theoretical Physics Research Department at the then, AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1976. At Bell Labs, Dr. Jackson conducted many successful theoretical physics experiments; her work was the foundation of inventions such as the fax machine, fiber optic cells, solar cells, touch-tone phone, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting. Although Dr. Jackson herself did not invent these technologies, she fostered a revolution in telecommunications.

Along with being the 18th President at RPI, Dr. Jackson’s accomplishments are notable. She is a woman of firsts: first African American woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering; first woman president of the National Society of Black Physicists.
In 2009, President Obama appointed Dr. Jackson to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. On the council, she advised on issues of  cybersecurity, digital technology, and national and global security. In 2016,President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Science. He applauded her as an inspiration to young STEM professionals. The award is the highest honor given to people making contributions to scientific fields.
For more reading on Black History Month, check out the Pasadena Public Library’s “Off the Shelf” newsletter.

CMP Recognizes African American Security Inventors 

This Black History Month, CMP recognizes the African American inventors who paved the way for our security industry. Our ability to offer concierge security services for your home or business from the curb to the door and inside is a result of Marie Van Brittan Brown’s ingenuity; technological advances in our industry are founded on Dr. Shirley Jackson’s research. And of course, our patrols are made so much easier with today’s sophisticated traffic signals.

Let us know if we can help you upgrade your home or business security. Request a no-obligation quote today or you call us today at 888-788-0813.


“Life has two rules: Number 1, never quit! Number 2, always remember rule Number 1.” —Duke Ellington

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