How did taking photographs of people shooting other people in the chest become a thing in the 1920s?

Well, it all started out two decades earlier with this image in the Feb 15, 1902 edition of Scientific American:

Less than half a year earlier, President William McKinley had died after taking two bullets to the stomach from an assassin.

So the idea of a vest that could take bullets instead of a body found a welcoming audience:

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Back in 1881, George E. Goodfellow was conducting an autopsy on a gunshot victim when he discovered that the man’s silk handkerchief had kept one of the bullets from going in as far as the others.

But Goodfellow was a doctor, so, after toying with the idea for a while, he went back to doing doctor stuff. Other people, however, ran with it.

The early technology of tightly-woven silk could stop most knives and some bullets, but guns were growing more powerful, and by 1913, silk just wasn’t enough protection.

It took Leo Krause’s patent for a vest that layered silk with metal plates in 1924 to really get things going again:

Photo Credit: US Patent Office

Like those who came before, Krause decided to put on his vest and have his partner, Bernard Spooner shoot him, but he upped the ante by having him do it with a friggin’ machine gun:

Photo Credit: Toronto Blade

The stunt was extremely convincing, and similar pictures became the standard way for inventors and people who were trying to sell bulletproof vests to get the message out.

Photo Credit: spysgrandson/flickr

And the craze went global. Here’s one from Germany:

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I ran the original 1931 caption through a translator and came up with this gem:

“A bulletproof protection tank!
The Kugelschutzpanzer is a German invention and is worn by the Berlin criminal police in fighting with criminals.”

In this case, instead of selling vests, I’d assume we’re looking at propaganda.

And here’s perhaps the most famous of all the bulletproof demo photos:

Photo Credit: Harris & Ewing

This 1923 photo is of W.H. Murphy demonstrating his Protective Garment Corporation vest in Maryland. It probably makes the rounds more than all of the others because it’s in the Library of Congress collection, it’s perhaps the most clear, and the dude’s face has a kind of Zen to it that belies the fact that he’s being shot by a gun.

H/T: Atlas Obscura

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