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.”
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