Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A look at bulletproof body armor and a book tie-in by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #bulletproofvest #bodyarmor


Bulletproof body armor has evolved over the past several centuries from rudimentary wooden and metal designs to layers of fabric to silk to Kevlar. The basic design of a bulletproof armor is the outer layer deflects and absorbs the bullet’s impact, and the inner layer retards deeper penetration.




  • Wooden and metal body armor were used in the 1500s by both Italian and Roman Royalty.
  •  In the 1800s, the Japanese created soft body armor from silk.
  •  The nylon flak jacket came along during WWII.
  •  In the 1970s, DuPont chemist, Stephanie Kwolek, invented made Kevlar.


Two‘silk’ stories:

1880s, Arizona— Doctor George E. Goodfellow documented cases of men who had been shot in the chest and 1) had either lived because the folded layers of a silk handkerchief in a breast pocket had stopped a bullet or, 2) in the case of the men who had died, the silk cloth had prevented the bullet from penetrating as deeply. Fascinated, Goodfellow went on to construct a vest that had multiple layers of silk, but he ultimately didn’t pursue it.

Dr. George E. Goodfellow
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

March 16, 1997, Chicago— A man named Casimir Zeglen (Americanized spelling) had received patents on two bulletproof vests (1895 and 1897). He had demonstrated, successfully, the effectiveness of his bulletproof armor on cadavers and a Great Dane (who was unharmed). However, the skeptics still weren’t convinced that his invention was safe for people.

Determined to change their minds, he arranged a demonstration  in front of a group of people he had personally invited, including Chicago’s mayor and several doctors and policemen, as witnesses.

Zeglen and his assistant faced each other. Zeglen was wearing his body armor. To the utter shock of the observers, the assistant fired directly into Zeglen’s chest with a .32 revolver. People rushed to Zeglen’s aid and were astonished he was alive. Zeglen said he’d felt a temporary stinging sensation. A second shot from the same revolver gave the same results. A third shot came from a .38 caliber revolver, which Zeglen said he felt as if he’d been poked in the ribs with knuckles.

One of the doctors insisted on ‘taking a shot’ (from the .32). He reported the concussion was no worse than being poked with a cane.

The fifth, and final shot, was fired at Zeglen from a .44 caliber Colt, and the after effects were similar to the other four.


Zeglen and Szczpanik
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Zeglen had designed a way to layer silk and hand-sew it in a certain and precise fashion, but it was a cost-prohibitive endeavor. It wasn’t until he teamed with another inventor named Jan Szczpanik that the technology they came up with  automatically manufactured silk bulletproof vests. Still, the cost for one vest was roughly $800 (c. 1900 dollars).


Szczpanik’s name ended up being associated with the ultimate success of silk bulletproof body armor, and Zeglen went on to other business adventures. The efficacy of silk armor couldn’t keep up with the increasing firepower that came with the evolution of ammunition. It did, however, create the path for the development of the sophisticated body armor of today.

Testing a bulletproof vet - Washington, D.C. 1923
National Photo Company, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This topic leads-in to my new book release today—Chicago Lightning—through the Prairie Rose Publications' Fire Star Press imprint. Come on by to read about it.


Excerpt (when we meet the villain and his silk bulletproof vest)

Although dark glasses masked his eyes, Eddie swept his gaze around the warehouse in a manner that appeared bored and uninterested. He idly brushed the dusting of snow from his shoulders and opened his double-breasted overcoat. Ceara wasn’t fooled at his apparent disinterest. Eddie missed nothing

As he strolled toward her, she took in his appearance from his tailored suit and one of his many custom-make eight-hundred-dollar silk vests that served as body armor, to his gleaming, patent leather wingtip oxfords. The silver tips were only slightly less brilliant than his diamond-studded platinum watch chain. His black felt fedora, perched at a jaunty angle, added another layer of arrogance, power, and affluence to his formidable presence. It was no wonder men and women looked twice at him. It was impossible not to.



Until next time,
Kaye Spencer


Look for Kaye here—


Casimir Zeglen References:

(PDF) Tailored to the Times: The Story of Casimir Zeglen’s Silk Bullet-Proof Vest (


The Monk Who Stopped Bullets with Silk: Inventing the Bulletproof Vest | Article |


  1. Great excerpt, and wonderful research. Did you know that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had a silk bullet proof vest, but wasn't wearing it when he was shot? It could have saved his life, and prevented WW1!

  2. C.A.,

    Yes. I read that in my research. For anyone interested, here's a link to an article about it.

    Talk about an event literally hinging on one person's decision. In this case, forgetting to wear body armor. History is so fascinating in this regard.

  3. This whole series you've done on the 20s has been so fascinating. Wishing you all the best on this story. I'm so glad it is being released. Doris

    1. Doris,

      Thank you. I appreciate the feedback that this series has been interesting and worthwhile for you to read.

  4. That early body armor made of wood (all ya needed was a torch) or metal back in the beginning must have weighed a person down. Maybe it was better to just be agile.
    I love stories from the 1920's. What an interesting and exciting time that must have been.
    All the best to you, Kaye...