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September 2, 2014

The Most Dangerous Job? Testing of New Bulletproof Vests in the 1920s

During the 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.

Below, two black and white photos show W.H. Murphy of the Protective Garment Corporation demonstrating his wares to a Maryland deputy sheriff:

This vest weighed 11 lb (5.0 kg), fit close to the body, and was considered more comfortable.

The deputy firing a .38 caliber revolver straight at his chest.

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 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.

On March 15, 1922, a news photo shows Leo Krause getting shot at close range near Carnegie Hall:

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.

Krause wasn’t a murder victim, though—he was a salesman who traveled 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.

“I’d rather be shot at than do the shooting,” said Leo Krouse “The shooter’s really the one on the spot––not me. He has to make sure he hits the armor.”

Another news image on issue May, 1924 of Popular Mechanics showing Krouse’s bullet-proof vest resists fire of three pistols:

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the bullet-proof vest he invented, Krause donned the garment, posed as the target and allowed three policemen to shoot at him at close range. Repeated fire of thirty-eight and forty-five caliber bullets failed to penetrate the vest. The missiles were flattened against the sides of the protector and fell harmless to the ground. Following this demonstration, young women put on the vests and also served as targets.


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