Photo Of The Day

A coloured version of this famous photo by Shorpy. This vest weighed 11 lb (5.0 kg), fit close to the body, and was considered more comfortable. Credit to: Zuzahin.

A coloured version of this famous photo by Shorpy. This vest weighed 11 lb (5.0 kg), fit close to the body, and was considered more comfortable. Credit to: Zuzahin.

Bulletproof Photo Craze

Men Shot Each Other all the Time, it Seems, for Publicity Photos in the 1920s

A Brief History of Bulletproof Vests

On March 15, 1922, a news photographer captured this image of Leo Krause getting shot at close range near Carnegie Hall. Krause wasn’t a murder victim, though—he was a salesman who travelled the world demonstrating the death-defying superpowers that his patented bulletproof vest gave him. This was one of the first of more than 4,000 bullets he’d later estimate he’d been shot with in his 27-year career. And he knew that arresting images like this were the key to more sales.

Swaths of vest salesmen hawked their wares with such proto-viral stunts. Prohibition-era mobsters and gangsters were increasingly turning to gun violence, and newspapers regularly printed photos of tests of bulletproof clothing and bulletproof glass.

But the original story of the bulletproof vest is far more complicated than readers at the time knew, and it was an image in a popular magazine that started the deception.

The February 15th, 1902, edition of Scientific American arrived bearing great news: ingenious inventor Jan Szczepanik, often referred to in the press as the Polish Edison, had recently unveiled the first “bullet and dagger-proof waist coat” out of tightly wound silk. As a result, the recent plague of assassination attempts against Presidents and Monarchs would no longer be as deadly. (“Such an effect would indeed be most beneficial,” the magazine drily noted.) The article went on to describe the vest’s effectiveness:

“Highly impressive and dramatic are the firing tests upon a live person, who, in the consciousness of his invulnerability, calmly and without moving a muscle exposes his breast, protected by the wonderful silk fabric, to the otherwise death-dealing bullets…The bullets rebound from the vest like hailstones from iron armor and drop to the ground with the point flattened.”

To drive the point home, the magazine included a soon-to-be iconic illustration of a dapper gentleman thrusting his vest-covered belly toward another top-hatted man who is firing a revolver at him from just a couple of feet away. It’s the first image of a bulletproof vest in action, and one of a series of bulletproof-vest-testing images that captured the public’s imagination during the early days of the 20th century.

What Scientific American likely didn’t realize, though, was that by printing the image and the article, they were publishing Szczepanik’s propaganda. As a result of that bit of good PR, even today Szczepanik is often credited with inventing the bulletproof vest. As it turns out, though, he stole the glory from a Chicago-based Polish priest named Casimir Zeglen.

The deputy firing a .38 caliber revolver straight at his chest. Photo: Shorpy.com. The gun players are WH Murphy and his assistant, of the Protective Garment Corporation of New York. The pictures were taken during a demonstration of the company’s “bulletproof vest” for DC-area police in 1923. The live demonstration took place at the Washington city police headquarters. They are inventors and salesmen trying to convince the police force that these bulletproof vests work and save lives. The police officers in the background (on the second photo) are all part of the Frederick County Police Department, the gun they are firing is believed to be a S&W Model 10 Revolver. Mr. Murphy stood less than ten feet (3 meters) from the firing gun and took two consecutive .38 round slugs straight to the chest, and eye witnesses claims he “didn’t bat an eye” in both cases. Later Murphy gave the deflected .38 bullet to the police officer as a souvenir. This vest weighed 11 lb (5.0 kg), fit close to the body, and was considered more comfortable than the previous types of bulletproof vests.

The deputy firing a .38 caliber revolver straight at his chest. The gun players are WH Murphy and his assistant, of the Protective Garment Corporation of New York. The pictures were taken during a demonstration of the company’s “bulletproof vest” for DC-area police in 1923. The live demonstration took place at the Washington city police headquarters. They are inventors and salesmen trying to convince the police force that these bulletproof vests work and save lives. The police officers in the background (in the photo above) are all part of the Frederick County Police Department, the gun they are firing is believed to be a S&W Model 10 Revolver. Mr. Murphy stood less than ten feet (3 meters) from the firing gun and took two consecutive .38 round slugs straight to the chest, and eye witnesses claims he “didn’t bat an eye” in both cases. Later Murphy gave the deflected .38 bullet to the police officer as a souvenir. This vest weighed 11 lb (5.0 kg), fit close to the body, and was considered more comfortable than the previous types of bulletproof vests. Photo: Shorpy.com. 

Photo: Bettmann. A demonstration on Palace Roof, 57th Street and 7th Avenue, showing the shellproof steel jacket. Leo Krause wearing the jacket, which weighs 12 pounds. Shots used, 38 and 45 calibre, at close range. On March 15, 1922, a news photographer captured this image of Leo Krause getting shot at close range near Carnegie Hall. Krause wasn’t a murder victim, though—he was a salesman who travelled the world demonstrating the death-defying superpowers that his patented bulletproof vest gave him. This was one of the first of more than 4,000 bullets he’d later estimate he’d been shot with in his 27-year career. And he knew that arresting images like this were the key to more sales.

Photo: Bettmann. A demonstration on Palace Roof, 57th Street and 7th Avenue, showing the shellproof steel jacket. Leo Krause wearing the jacket, while casually smoking a cigar. The jacket weighs 12 pounds. Shots used, 38 and 45 calibre, at close range. On March 15, 1922, a news photographer captured this image of  Krause getting shot at close range near Carnegie Hall. Krause wasn’t a murder victim, though —he was a salesman who travelled the world demonstrating the death-defying superpowers that his patented bulletproof vest gave him. This was one of the first of more than 4,000 bullets he’ later estimated he’’d been shot with in his 27-year career. And he knew that arresting images like this were the key to more sales.

Mr. Borzykowski shooting at Joseph, assisting in a bullet-proof armor. (Photo: Courtesy Slawomir Lotysz/ Ilustracja Polska, vol. 6, 1901/ Public Domain)

Mr. Borzykowski shooting at Joseph, assisting in a bullet-proof armor. (Photo: Courtesy Slawomir Lotysz/ Ilustracja Polska, vol. 6, 1901/ Public Domain)

For the last decade or so, Slawomir Lotysz, a professor at the Institute for the History of Science in the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, has combed through archival Polish-language correspondence and newspapers to better understand the relationship between Zeglen and Szczepanik. A few years ago, he discovered an archive of Zeglen’s letters in Rome, which revealed the depths of the Polish Edison’s deception. Of course, casting doubt on Szczepanik in Poland is like trying to do the same about Edison here in the States. The Warsaw Museum of Technology recently hosted a special exhibit about the inventor, and he was recently honored with a stamp. “I am hitting a wall with my head here, in Poland, trying to tell the people truth about Zeglen,” Lotysz tells me. “Szczepanik is a statue—a hero as you say.”

Lotysz laid out the timeline for the development of the bulletproof vest in a 2014 paper in the academic journal Arms & Armour. It turns out that Zeglen the priest first got the idea to create a bulletproof garment in 1893, when Carter Harrison, Sr., the mayor of Chicago, was shot dead on his doorstep by a paranoid newspaper distributor. Zeglen had only recently been assigned by his church to minister to the huge Polish community in Chicago, and he was determined to do something about the violence in his new country. By 1897, he had patented his new method of weaving silk into layers thick enough to stop bullets; the world’s first soft armor. That same year, he started giving live demonstrations of his new technology. He’d don a vest and then have a soldier shoot him with a 7 mm pistol.

It was such a sensation that later that year, he took his show on the road to New York. Demand for his new vests became so great, though, that he realized that he needed to go to Europe, where the first mechanical weaving machines capable of creating large numbers of vests existed.

He first met Szczepanik in Vienna in early 1898, just after the inventor had been labeled a genius by none other than Mark Twain for devising a proto-television known as a telectroscope and a new process of mechanically applying images to fabrics. Szczepanik had the automated weaving technology to create Zeglen’s vests at scale, so the men signed an agreement and Zeglen returned to the States to keep marketing his invention.

For the next three years, Zeglen toiled in relative obscurity as he tried and failed to convince police departments to buy his incredibly expensive silk vests. But then, in 1901, a son of Polish immigrants caused the demand for bulletproof vests to go way up. That September, at an exposition in Buffalo, New York, the anarchist Leon Czolgosz walked up to President William McKinley and shot him twice in the stomach with a revolver. The president died eight days later.

Szczepanik immediately realized the impact the assassination would have on the bulletproof vest business, and decided to use his fame to muscle Zeglen out of the business. The first press he got was from the Polish magazine Ilustracja Polska, which likely commissioned the engraving above. The caption states it’s an image of Benno Borzykowski, Szczepanik’s partner in the textile industry, shooting his assistant Joseph in the backyard of his factory in Vienna. The arresting image was then picked up by the popular German weekly Illustrirte Zeitung before appearing inScientific American a few months later.

When Zeglen saw the onslaught of publicity that completely failed to mention him, he was irate, according to Lotysz, the Polish historian. He travelled back to Poland to show off his patents and (unsuccessfully) attempt to convince the public that he was the true inventor of the revolutionary technology.

The final split between the men occurred in 1904, when Zeglen attempted to sell his technology to the Russian army, only to learn that Szczepanik had already visited them.

What eventually quieted the controversy, though, wasn’t publicity. It was technology. While silk was strong enough to deflect the bullets in 1900, in the ensuing years guns became much more powerful. By 1910, silk was no longer an effective barrier and the invention was useless. Szczepanik landed on his feet, becoming a Polish icon after inventing dozens of other items, from automated film to an electric rifle to a submarine. When Zeglen returned to Chicago to rejoin his church, though, the bulletproof monk found that after his long time away, his fellow clergymen no longer wanted him there.

Zeglen’s silk wasn’t strong enough to be effective by itself, but other inventors continued to search for new materials they could put in between bullets and human flesh. Leo Krause, for example, found he could create enough tensile strength to stop even more powerful bullets by creating a quilt of silk and overlapping metal plates. And with this new technology, he and others went out in the world seeking publicity and spreading the word one gunshot at a time.

Demonstration of a protective vest by the Berlin Police (1931).

Demonstration of a protective vest by the Berlin Police (1931).

New York City police test an early version of the bulletproof vest.

New York City police test an early version of the bulletproof vest.

German body armour (1918). Body armor first came into being as a part of the warfare attire in the middle ages, when knights were required to wear heavy defensive gear. In addition to that, they would also carry a shield, which was akin to a protective screen or a barrier, which they could hold in front of themselves to ward off the incoming barrages of arrows, and strikes from swords, battle axes, maces or other weapons.When a 16th century European blacksmith finished making armour that could with-stain firearms, he fired a shot at the breastplate, denting it. As the story goes, this dent was proof to his customer that the armor would stand up to a bullet, so it became known as "the bullet proof." He went around to police stations shooting himself in the chest to demonstrate its power. Later, Davis created a second vest design using Kevlar, which is 230% stronger than nylon!

German body armour (1918). Body armor first came into being as a part of the warfare attire in the middle ages, when knights were required to wear heavy defensive gear. In addition to that, they would also carry a shield, which was akin to a protective screen or a barrier, which they could hold in front of themselves to ward off the incoming barrages of arrows, and strikes from swords, battle axes, maces or other weapons. When a 16th century European blacksmith finished making armour that could with-stain firearms, he fired a shot at the breastplate, denting it. As the story goes, this dent was proof to his customer that the armor would stand up to a bullet, so it became known as “the bullet proof.” He went around to police stations shooting himself in the chest to demonstrate its power. Later, Davis created a second vest design using Kevlar, which is 230% stronger than nylon!

When a 16th century European blacksmith finished making armour that was impervious to firearms, he fired a shot at the breastplate, denting it. As the story goes, this dent was proof to his customer that the armour would stand up to a bullet, so it became known as “the bullet proof. Since then, the history of bulletproof vests has been anything but a straight shot.

In the late 1800s, both Japan and Korea developed some of the first modern bulletproof vests when they discovered that 30 layers of silk fabric could stop the black powder bullets of the day. This “soft armour laid the foundation for numerous inventors who tried to improve upon the idea as firearms became more powerful.

Casimir Zeglen, with the help of fellow inventor Jan Szczepanik, devised a special way to weave a 1.6mm steel plate between four layers of silk. Zeglen claimed his 1/8” thick, 1/2 lb. vest could stop a .44 caliber—and he proved it when he volunteered to be shot before a live audience in New York City. When he was struck by the bullet at only 10 paces, he said he felt just “a tap.” Zeglen and his “bullet proof cloth” became an overnight sensation. Egged on by the positive publicity, Zeglen left the priesthood in order to pursue his new business venture.

Sadly, he never made his fortune, in part due to bad timing and bad luck. When the U.S. Military tested his invention, they found that it was too hot and too expensive thanks to the amount of silk required. Undaunted, Zeglen then offered one to President McKinley in the hopes it might spur interest. After contacting the White House, Zeglen was told he could meet the President in a month, as McKinley was going to be too busy traveling. Two weeks later in Buffalo, McKinley was shot and killed by an assassin’s bullet that ripped through his abdomen. Zeglen’s vest would have easily stopped the .32 caliber round.

Zeglen did manage to get Archduke Franz Ferdinand to accept one of his vests.

Unfortunately, Ferdinand was killed while wearing it. The kill shot hit him in the neck, well above the vest itself, but it didn’t matter—the bad publicity didn’t help and Zeglen was soon out of business.

For the rest of his life, Zeglen continued to invent and improve existing products, but he never came as close to fame as he did with his bullet proof cloth.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of the First World War.

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of the First World War.

A Japanese vest, which used overlapping armour plates.

A Japanese vest, which used overlapping armour plates.

Presently, there is no such thing as a bulletproof vest. Vests are only considered “bullet resistant,” simply because there is always some type of firearm that can penetrate even the latest advancements in protective technology. For over 30 years, the synthetic fiber Kevlar has been the go-to material for making bullet-resistant vests. But researchers are constantly looking for new ideas and new materials to make a truly bulletproof vest. And they’ve looked in some unusual places.

A bulletproof vest has to have the ability to stop a bullet from penetrating, but must also spread out the kinetic energy of the projectile. One possible answer to this problem might be borrowed from the abalone. This mighty mollusk’s shell is made up of layer upon layer of microscopic, rock hard calcium tiles. The layers of tiles are held together on the top and bottom by a sticky protein, but the sides are simply butting up against one another. Should an abalone’s shell take a sharp blow, it’s tough enough to keep the projectile from getting through. But the tiles also have enough give to slide back and forth, absorbing much of the impact by spreading it out to neighboring tiles. Researchers believe if a vest were made using these same concepts, it could stop just about anything you threw at it.

Spider silk is one of the strongest, most flexible materials in nature, and has also been called the next big thing in bulletproofing. It’s not quite as strong as Kevlar, but it’s 10 times more elastic, meaning it can bounce back and absorb the energy of a bullet much better. However, getting spider silk on a large scale is not easy. So inventors are mixing spider DNA with goats (yes, goats), who then secrete the web protein in their milk. After milking, the protein is extracted and processed to create a fiber known as BioSteel. If you made a vest using both BioSteel and Kevlar, you could have one very tough, but very flexible bulletproof solution.

Another idea is “liquid armour”—Kevlar coated in a non-toxic fluid made up of nano-particles of silica. When under low stress conditions, these nano-particles are completely flexible, allowing the wearer to move freely. But within a millisecond of receiving a high-impact blow, the silica in the immediate target zone would become rigid, preventing further penetration. Best of all, the armor would protect against threats that a normal bulletproof jacket can’t—namely puncture wounds from knives and shrapnel from explosions. It could very well be the “silver bullet” to bulletproofing.

The Modular Tactical Vest comes with several components that Marines have to carefully configure and maintain.(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ethan E. Rocke)(Released)

The Modular Tactical Vest comes with several components that Marines have to carefully configure and maintain.(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ethan E. Rocke)(Released)

Sn-42 Body Armor.

Sn-42 Body Armour.

Bulletproof vests are modern light armour specifically designed to protect the wearer’s vital organs from injury caused by firearm projectiles. To many protective armour manufacturers and wearers, the term “bulletproof vest” is a misnomer. Because the wearer is not totally safe from the impact of a bullet, the preferred term for the article is “bullet resistant vest.”

Over the centuries, different cultures developed body armour for use during combat. Mycenaeans of the sixteenth century b.c. and Persians and Greeks around the fifth century b.c. used up to fourteen layers of linen, while Micronesian inhabitants of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands used woven coconut palm fibre until the nineteenth century. Elsewhere, armour was made from the hides of animals: the Chinese—as early as the eleventh century b.c.—wore rhinoceros skin in five to seven layers, and the Shoshone Indians of North America also developed jackets of several layers of hide that were glued or sewn together. Quilted armour was available in Central America before Cortes, in England in the seventeenth century, and in India until the nineteenth century.

Mail armour comprised linked rings or wires of iron, steel, or brass and was developed as early as 400 b.c. near the Ukrainian city of Kiev. The Roman Empire utilized mail shirts, which remained the main piece of annor in Europe until the fourteenth century. Japan, India, Persia, Sudan, and Nigeria also developed mail armour. Scale armour, overlapping scales of metal, horn, bone, leather, or scales from an appropriately scaled animal (such as the scaly anteater), was used throughout the Eastern Hemisphere from about 1600 b.c. until modern times. Sometimes, as in China, the scales were sewn into cloth pockets.

Brigandine armour —sleeveless, quilted jackets—consisted of small rectangular iron or steel plates riveted onto leather strips that overlapped like roof tiles. The result was a relatively light, flexible jacket. (Earlier coats of plates in the twelfth-century Europe were heavier and more complete. These led to the familiar full-plate suit of armour of the 1500s and 1600s.) Many consider brigandine armor the forerunner of today’s bulletproof vests. The Chinese and Koreans had similar armour around A.D. 700, and during the fourteenth century in Europe, it was the common form of body armour. One piece of breast-plate within a cover became the norm after 1360, and short brigandine coats with plates that were tied into place prevailed in Europe until 1600.

With the introduction of firearms, armor crafts workers at first tried to compensate by reinforcing the cuirass, or torso cover, with thicker steel plates and a second heavy plate over the breastplate, providing some protection from guns. Usually, though, cumber-some armor was abandoned wherever firearms came into military use.

The homemade armor worn by Australian outlaw Ned Kelly in 1880, and now on display in Australia's State Library of Victoria.The armor has many bullet impressions, but none penetrated.

The homemade armor worn by Australian outlaw Ned Kelly in 1880, and now on display in Australia’s State Library of Victoria.The armor has many bullet impressions, but none penetrated.

Experimental inquiry into effective armor against gunfire continued, most notably during the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II, but it was not until the plastics revolution of the 1940s that effective bulletproof vests became available to law enforcers, military personnel, and others. The vests of the time were made of ballistic nylon and supplemented by plates of fiber-glass, steel, ceramic, titanium, Doron, and composites of ceramic and fiberglass, the last being the most effective.

Ballistic nylon was the standard cloth used for bulletproof vests until the 1970s. In 1965, Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist at Du Pont, invented Kevlar, trademark for poly-para-phenylene terephthalamide, a liquid polymer that can be spun into aramid fiber and woven into cloth. Originally, Kevlar was developed for use in tires, and later for such diverse products as ropes, gaskets, and various parts for planes and boats. In 1971, Lester Shubin of the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice advocated its use to replace bulky ballistic nylon in bulletproof vests. Kevlar has been the standard material since. In 1989, the Allied Signal Company developed a competitor for Kevlar and called it Spectra. Originally used for sail cloth, the polyethylene fiber is now used to make lighter, yet stronger, nonwoven material for use in bulletproof vests along-side the traditional Kevlar.

A bulletproof vest consists of a panel, a vest-shaped sheet of advanced plastics polymers that is composed of many layers of either Kevlar, Spectra Shield, or, in other countries, Twaron (similar to Kevlar) or Bynema (similar to Spectra). The layers of woven Kevlar are sewn together using Kevlar thread, while the nonwoven Spectra Shield is coated and bonded with resins such as Kraton and then sealed between two sheets of polyethylene film.

The panel provides protection but not much comfort. It is placed inside of a fabric shell that is usually made from a polyester/cotton blend or nylon. The side of the shell facing the body is usually made more comfortable by sewing a sheet of some absorbent material such as Kumax onto it. A bulletproof vest may also have nylon padding for extra protection. For bulletproof vests intended to be worn in especially dangerous situations, built-in pouches are provided to hold plates made from either metal or ceramic bonded to fiberglass. Such vests can also provide protection in car accidents or from stabbing.

Various devices are used to strap the vests on. Sometimes the sides are connected with elastic webbing. Usually, though, they are secured with straps of either cloth or elastic, with metallic buckles or Velcro closures.

Some bulletproof vests are custom-made to meet the customer’s protection needs or size. Most, however, meet standard protection regulations, have standard clothing industry sizes (such as 38 long, 32 short), and are sold in quantity.

Making the panel cloth

  1. To make Kevlar, the polymer poly-para-phenylene terephthalamide must first be produced in the laboratory. This is done through a process known as polymerization, which involves combining molecules into long chains. The resultant crystalline liquid with polymers in the shape of rods is then extruded through a spinneret (a small metal plate full of tiny holes that looks like a shower head) to form Kevlar yarn. The Kevlar fiber then passes through a cooling bath to help it harden. After being sprayed with water, the synthetic fiber is wound onto rolls. The Kevlar manufacturer then typically sends the fiber to throwsters, who twist the yarn to make it suitable for weaving. To make Kevlar cloth, the yarns are woven in the simplest pattern, plain or tabby weave, which is merely the over and under pattern of threads that interlace alternatively.
  1. Unlike Kevlar, the Spectra used in bulletproof vests is usually not woven. Instead, the strong polyethylene polymer filaments are spun into fibers that are then laid parallel to each other. Resin is used to coat the fibers, sealing them together to form a sheet of Spectra cloth. Two sheets of this cloth are then placed at right angles to one another and again bonded, forming a nonwoven fabric that is next sandwiched between two sheets of polyethylene film. The vest shape can then be cut from the material.

Cutting the panels

  1. Kevlar cloth is sent in large rolls to the bulletproof vest manufacturer. The fabric is first unrolled onto a cutting table that must be long enough to allow several panels to be cut out at a time; sometimes it can be as long as 32.79 yards (30 meters). As many layers of the material as needed (as few as eight layers, or as many as 25, depending on the level of protection desired) are laid out on the cutting table.
  1. A cut sheet, similar to pattern pieces used for home sewing, is then placed on the layers of cloth. For maximum use of the material, some manufacturers use computer graphics systems to determine the optimal placement of the cut sheets.
  2. Using a hand-held machine that performs like a jigsaw except that instead of a cutting wire it has a 5.91-inch (15-centimeter) cutting wheel similar to that on the end of a pizza cutter, a worker cuts around the cut sheets to form panels, which are then placed in precise stacks.

Sewing the panels

  1. While Spectra Shield generally does not require sewing, as its panels are usually just cut and stacked in layers that go into tight fitting pouches in the vest, a bulletproof vest made from Kevlar can be either quilt-stitched or box-stitched. Quilt-stitching forms small diamonds of cloth separated by stitching, whereas box stitching forms a large single box in the middle of the vest. Quilt-stitching is more labor intensive and difficult, and it provides a stiff panel that is hard to shift away from vulnerable areas. Box-stitching, on the other hand, is fast and easy and allows the free movement of the vest.
  1. To sew the layers together, workers place a stencil on top of the layers and rub chalk on the exposed areas of the panel, making a dotted line on the cloth. A sewer then stitches the layers together, following the pattern made by the chalk. Next, a size label is sewn onto the panel.

Finishing the vest

  1. The shells for the panels are sewn together in the same factory using standard industrial sewing machines and standard sewing practices. The panels are then slipped inside the shells, and the accessories—such as the straps—are sewn on. The finished bulletproof vest is boxed and shipped to the customer.

Bulletproof vests undergo many of the same tests a regular piece of clothing does. The fiber manufacturer tests the fiber and yarn tensile strength, and the fabric weavers test the tensile strength of the resultant cloth. Nonwoven Spectra is also tested for tensile strength by the manufacturer. Vest manufacturers test the panel material (whether Kevlar or Spectra) for strength, and production quality control requires that trained observers inspect the vests after the panels are sewn and the vests completed.

Bulletproof vests, unlike regular clothing, must undergo stringent protection testing as required by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Not all bulletproof vests are alike. Some protect against lead bullets at low velocity, and some protect against full metal jacketed bullets at high velocity. Vests are classified numerically from lowest to highest protection: I, II-A, II, III-A, III, IV, and special cases (those for which the customer specifies the protection needed). Each classification specifies which type of bullet at what velocity will not penetrate the vest. While it seems logical to choose the highest-rated vests (such as III or IV), such vests are heavy, and the needs of a person wearing one might deem a lighter vest more appropriate. For police use, a general rule suggested by experts is to purchase a vest that protects against the type of firearm the officer normally carries.

Two American GIs wearing M1951 bullet-proof vests on Triangle Hill in Korea.

Two American GIs wearing M1951 bullet-proof vests on Triangle Hill in Korea.

Sgt. 1st Class Erika Gordon, 25th MP Co. kennel master, uses a building for cover while her military working dog, Hanna, clears the door way. A U.S. Army working dog, wearing a bullet-resistant vest, clears a building in Afghanistan.

Sgt. 1st Class Erika Gordon, 25th MP Co. kennel master, uses a building for cover while her military working dog, Hanna, clears the door way. A U.S. Army working dog, wearing a bullet-resistant vest, clears a building in Afghanistan.

High-speed video images shows a bullet hitting ten layers of Kevlar treated with liquid armour 'custard'. British scientists have created a liquid body armour suit that hardens and absorbs shrapnel on impact using – "bullet-proof custard".

High-speed video images shows a bullet hitting ten layers of Kevlar treated with liquid armour ‘custard’. British scientists have created a liquid body armour suit that hardens and absorbs shrapnel on impact using – “bullet-proof custard”.

The Kevlar is soaked in one of two fluids, both of which have the same effect. The most common method is the shear-thickening fluid, which behaves like a solid when it encounters mechanical shear (like a bullet or piece of shrapnel). This means that it will act like a liquid until it comes in contact with forceful object. As soon as contact is made, the liquid hardens, offering significant protection to the user. While this product is not yet combat ready, studies have shown that liquid body armor can be a key advantage to soldiers and police officers, offering more mobility without losing protection. Scientists are working on perfecting this product so it can become available as quickly as possible.

The Kevlar is soaked in one of two fluids, both of which have the same effect. The most common method is the shear-thickening fluid, which behaves like a solid when it encounters mechanical shear (like a bullet or piece of shrapnel). This means that it will act like a liquid until it comes in contact with forceful object. As soon as contact is made, the liquid hardens, offering significant protection to the user. While this product is not yet combat ready, studies have shown that liquid body armor can be a key advantage to soldiers and police officers, offering more mobility without losing protection. Scientists are working on perfecting this product so it can become available as quickly as possible.

The size label on a vest is very important. Not only does it include size, model, style, manufacturer’s logo, and care instructions as regular clothing does, it must also include the protection rating, lot number, date of issue, an indication of which side should face out, a serial number, a note indicating it meets NIJ approval standards, and—for type I through type III-A vests—a large warning that the vest will not protect the wearer from sharp instruments or rifle fire.

Bulletproof vests are tested both wet and dry. This is done because the fibers used to make a vest perform differently when wet.

Testing (wet or dry) a vest entails wrapping it around a modeling clay dummy. A firearm of the correct type with a bullet of the correct type is then shot at a velocity suitable for the classification of the vest. Each shot should be three inches (7.6 centimeters) away from the edge of the vest and almost two inches from (five centimeters) away from previous shots. Six shots are fired, two at a 30-degree angle of incidence, and four at a 0-degree angle of incidence. One shot should fall on a seam. This method of shooting forms a wide triangle of bullet holes. The vest is then turned upside down and shot the same way, this time making a narrow triangle of bullet holes. To pass the test, the vest should show no sign of penetration. That is, the clay dummy should have no holes or pieces of vest or bullet in it. Though the bullet will leave a dent, it should be no deeper than 1.7 inches (4.4 centimeters).

When a vest passes inspections, the model number is certified and the manufacturer can then make exact duplicates of the vest. After the vest has been tested, it is placed in an archive so that in the future vests with the same model number can be easily checked against the prototype.

Rigged field-testing is not feasible for bullet-proof vests, but in a sense, wearers (such as police officers) test them everyday. Studies of wounded police officers have shown that bulletproof vests save hundreds of lives each year.

During the late 1920s through the early 1930s, gunmen from criminal gangs in the United States began wearing less-expensive vests made from thick layers of cotton padding and cloth. These early vests could absorb the impact of handgun rounds such as .22 Long Rifle, .25 ACP, .32 S&W Long, .32 S&W, .380 ACP, .38 Special and .45 ACP traveling at speeds of up to 300 m/s (980 ft/s). To overcome these vests, law enforcement agents such as the FBI began using the newer and more powerful .38 Super, and later the .357 Magnum cartridge. 

History Of Bullet Proof Vests – Inventors – About.com

A Brief History of Bulletproof Vests | Mental Floss

The History of the Bulletproof Vest – BulletSafe.com

A History of Bullet Proof Vests and Body Armor – The Travel Insider

Could Franz Ferdinand’s bullet-proof vest have changed history …

Application and History – BULLETPROOF NANOTECHNOLOGY

Bullet Proof Vest History and Facts – AITpro Website Security

A Brief History of Body Armor – TIME

History of the Bulletproof Vest – International Armoring Corporation

 


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