Body armor is used by law enforcement officers. It is a soldier’s best friend in a warzone, but it is often taken for granted. Although it’s existed in some shape or form for centuries, modern body armor has a much more recent history.
In this article, you’ll learn who invented modern-day body armor and a few interesting facts as well.
The Inventor of Kevlar
The origin of modern body armor takes us to the story of the material used in bulletproof vests to block bullets.
During World War II, there were soldiers and their commanders using steel plates to protect themselves from gunfire. However, there was one massive problem with steel in this department – although it’s resilient enough to block even high-caliber rounds, it’s very heavy.
It took until 1965 for a resilient yet lightweight material to be created. Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist working at DuPont, a company based in Wilmington, Delaware, developed Kevlar – a stronger than steel fiber), and that’s still being used in all modern ballistic vests today. Law enforcement agents in the US even refer to their vests as “Kevlar.”
But the invention of Kevlar wasn’t directly responsible for its application in body armor use. Kwolek was actually working on a breakthrough in tire technology. She came up with a lightweight yet incredibly strong fabric. In fact, it’s fivefold stronger than steel, and, unlike metal, it is lightweight and flexible. But it was still considered “tire technology.”
Even if what transpired hadn’t happened, a government agency should’ve seen an opportunity to make use of Kevlar for providing protection for law enforcement and military personnel. But that’s not what happened. The story behind the invention of modern-day body armor is much simpler and far more interesting.
A Pizza Guy from Detroit
Richard Davis left the Marine Corps and decided to open a pizzeria in Detroit. He would often make deliveries, so he was often out on the street. Suffice to say, Detroit wasn’t really a city that you could call “safe.”
One day, his delivery took him through some back alley, where he was accosted. Of course, the stickup was at gunpoint. After a couple of weeks, he received an identical order for the exact same address. Still, Davis decided to go ahead and make the delivery – he wasn’t going to let fear take over his business. This time, though, the ex-Marine would come prepared – carrying a .22 revolver under the pies.
The same robbers attacked him again. However, this time, he was ready to take them on. Naturally, a gunfight ensued. Davis used everything he had learned in the marines to incapacitate three of the four robbers. But he also took a round to the back of his leg and one to his temple. Luckily, the latter only grazed him.
Wounded but proud to have stood up to the criminals, Davis was taken to the hospital, where he would spend a few weeks recuperating. During this time, though, his pizzeria ended up being burnt to the ground. Clearly, Davis was never meant to run such a business.
With nothing but $70 to his name and a desire to provide people with protection against bullets, he moved on to his next endeavor.
The Bulletproof Vests as We Know Them
Davis managed to get his hands on some Kevlar (back then, Kevlar was far from a household name). He saw the opportunity in the material – flexible, reasonably lightweight, and as much as five times more resilient than steel – this was his golden goose.
The ex-marine sat at home for days making the vests. Then, he’d try selling them to police officers at night. Although science was behind him, and even though he had tested these vests and knew their potential, the cops didn’t. His attempts failed.
The bulletproof vest as we know it now had just been invented – it worked great from up-close and from a distance. But drastic measures needed to be taken if Davis wanted to get the vests to the individuals that truly needed them.
The line between inspiration and madness is often very thin. But sometimes, to share your inspiration with others, you need to take drastic steps. Davis knew that he could organize an event to shoot some wooden mannequins wearing his fantastic product. But he also knew that this wouldn’t get him very far. Even if a law enforcement officer attended this type of a test, would they really be impressed?
Davis decided to step up his game. He organized an event, letting the attendees know that a man would shoot himself in the chest. A crowd of people duly gathered. They wanted to see this madman. As it transpired, a lot of them were law enforcement officers.
And there he knelt – a man carrying a beige vest, with a revolver pointed at his chest. He pulled the trigger, stood up, and – walked it off. Raising his T-shirt, the crowd saw a big bruise, but no blood. Yes, a bullet will hurt, even with Kevlar – but it won’t penetrate the skin. The wearer of this vest would be protected against most firearms in the chest area.
After that, his business started flourishing. He created a company called Second Chance – the first company to use Kevlar as body armor.
It’s safe to say that, although there wouldn’t be Kevlar without Stephanie Kwolek, it’s Richard Davis that created the world’s first modern ballistic vest.
The Origin of Modern Body Armor
To this day, ballistic vests are based on Richard Davis’ design. They’ve been providing protection for law enforcement, security, and military personnel around the world for more than 50 years. Although many companies make Kevlar-based products, it all began with Richard Davis. And all because a couple of muggers picked the wrong pizza guy to mess with.
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