“Back to the Future Day” and the History of Home Security

“Back to the Future Day” took place on Wednesday, October 21st, and while we we were celebrating Doc, Marty, and Jennifer’s historic time travel to 2015, we got to thinking: what did home security look like back in their time of 1985? Or even back in 1955, where Marty went on his first trip in Doc’s DeLorean?

You might be surprised at how old the security industry actually is! As early as the Colonial times, there were watchtowers with sentries, who rang out alerts when fires were spotted, and the earliest form of neighborhood watch, with citizens who patrolled the streets at night and warned of danger.

In 1853, Augustus Pope patented a device which wired a pair of electromagnets attached to a door frame to a vibrating bell. If the door was opened, the bell rang. But a few years later, in declining health, he sold the patent to Edwin Holmes, who is often credited as the father of the modern security system. Holmes opened the Holmes Electric Protection Company in New York, and used clever marketing strategies to overcome the general public fear of using electricity. In short time, he had over 1200 business and wealthy homeowners utilizing his system.

The first central station is credited to Edward A. Calahan, a telegrapher who invented the stock ticker. In the late 1800’s, he had the idea to place call boxes throughout the city which, when utilized, could signal a central location to send a messenger boy or emergency response. Though the technology has advanced, this model remains the basis for central stations to this day.

Video surveillance was developed way back in the 1940’s, but it wasn’t until much later that a viable way to utilize it for home security was invented. In 1969, Marie Van Brittan Brown patented a closed-captioned TV camera system which traveled on a track and monitored a door via peep holes, sending grainy images back to a television monitor in the home. While this original version was not a commercial success, it laid the groundwork for future home surveillance cameras.

Home security systems continued to improve through the 20th century, with better design for emergency services, and the development of more features, including the first motion detectors. In the 80’s and 90’s, security alarms became a mainstream feature for both businesses and residential homes. Previously only an option for the wealthiest individuals, now systems were affordable for middle-class families as well.

We’re pretty sure Marty, Doc, and Jennifer would be as impressed with the real 2015 as the one they discovered in the movie. After all, the home Jennifer discovers in her future showcases several security features that are available right now. And yes, we’d like to think the McFly family had a security system professionally monitored by Manitou! As technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, it poses the question: What kind of technology will be available in the next 30 years?