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he modern Kevlar bulletproof vest sees use in both civilian and military settings. Kevlar’s unique property of spreading the pressure of a bullet hit while being relatively thin has made it a main piece of many forces who need protection from potential threats. Although bulletproof vests existed before the invention of the Kevlar bulletproof vest, they didn’t hold the same properties that the Kevlar one holds and as such saw much less extensive use compared to the use of Kevlar vests today. How did this invention come about and how did it become so widespread?

Delivering pizza is not an easy job

Our story starts with Richard Davis, a former US Marine. After he finished his service with the US armed forces he decided to open up a pizzeria on 7 Mile, Detroit in 1969. This location wasn’t renown for its safety and as such Davis would encounter some problems while running his business.

A 22. revolver similar to what Davis would have used 50 years ago in 1969. Source: Wikimedia Commons

One night Davis got an order for two large pepperoni and ham pizzas. The address given to him by the caller led him down a dark alleyway where he was robbed at gunpoint by three men.

Deja vu hit Davis as only a few weeks later, the exact same order was made by the same address. This time to be sure he wouldn’t be robbed, Davis carried a 22. revolver below the pizzas he was delivering as he entered the alleyway.

Once again, he was jumped by the previous assailants, but this time he fought back, injuring all three of the attackers and escaping with only a leg injury.

This action instigated retaliation from the men’s associates leading to the former marine’s pizzeria being burnt down soon after the confrontation. With only $70 to his name, Davis sought to change the lives of those in danger of gunfire, mainly focusing on the police, by creating a new type of body armor. To achieve this, he contacted DuPont

Show don’t tell

Davis’ shop burning down coincided with DuPont’s innovative discovery of a new more tough and lightweight tire material, Kevlar. With his last $70 Davis bought Kevlar from DuPont and fashioned the pieces of fabric into vests which he went on to advertise to different police departments around his area. Although the vests were innovative none of the local police were willing to invest in this unknown fabric. Davis had to step up his advertising.

To spread the word about his product Davis gathered representatives from all of the local police departments for a demonstration of how his product worked. He started off by explaining the benefits of having a concealable piece of body armour, showing the representatives that criminals are more incentivised to shoot for the unprotected areas of the body if they see that the person is wearing visible body armour.

A frame from Davis’ first ‘promotional video’ filmed during his show to the representatives of the local police departments. Source: The Smithsonian

After explaining his reasoning Davis commenced a series of tests with different firearms, shooting at the vest repeatedly with none of the rounds going through, although impressive it wasn’t the sensational pieces of advertising he needed. A thought came across his mind, what if he shot himself? What is more promising than showing rather than telling someone?

This was the same premises which led to Davis arriving at the conclusion that he must shoot himself. He took his 44. revolver and aimed it at his chest which was protected by his homemade Kevlar vest, he cocked the gun, then shot. As soon as the shot rang out Davis jumped up and shot three targets he set up before and lifted the vest then his shirt to show the damage the bullet caused. The bullet didn’t penetrate the armour, only a circular bruise could be seen on his body. Everyone was astounded.

From doubt to the daily standard

Davis first performance of the effectiveness of his vest worked. He started selling the vests to a scale he never thought possible. To expand his business, he went around the country and performed the same ‘shooting himself’ stunt to other hundreds of spectators increasing his sales as he went. Throughout his campaign, Davis shot himself over 200 times, he describes this experience with a very memorable quote:

“I’ve been shot over 200 times now and I say that the first time it was science, the next 200 were show business”

Modern ‘Second Chance’ body armor. Similar vests have become the go-to for those who wish to protect themselves from low to medium caliber bullets. Source: Wikimedia Commons

His vests became widely used around America under the name of the “Second Chance” body armor. He created a company under the same name which handled their production and distribution across the entire United States. Since their introduction onto the market, it is estimated that these vests and other similar variants created by Davis and his company saved over 800 lives, more than any other body armor manufacturer in the business. Many police departments still use ‘Second Chance’ products, as seen on the left. Such vests can be found on websites such as the LA Police Gear website.

During his early years, Davis showed amazing faith in his idea, going as far as risking his life to prove to the world that what he had created was really revolutionary. Such an attitude is to be admired and looked up to, as many of us would never have the same courage to go as far as he did. In the end, his faith in his product led him to create one of the most revolutionary inventions in self-defense history.

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