21 Days of Chicago Lightning – Teasers, Tidbits, Trivia (Day 17 – Bulletproof vests) by Kaye Spencer #roaringtwenties #romanticsuspense #prohibitionera

Chicago Lightning is a romantic suspense novel that begins with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago on February 14, 1929 and ends around midnight two days later in Five Points, New York City.

Today’s topic takes a look at the history of bulletproof vests.

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 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







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—


Day 1 – Jan. 25th – Chicago Lightning – book video
Day 2 – Jan. 26th – Popular Songs of the 1920s
Day 3 – Jan. 27th – Notable Events of the 1920s – 1920 through 1924
Day 4 – Jan. 28th – Notable Events of the 1920s – 1925 through 1929
Day 5 – Jan. 29th – Chapter 1 – Micro Excerpt #1
Day 6 – Jan. 30th – Slang – 1920s era
Day 7 – Jan. 31st – Pre-order
Day 8 – Feb. 1st – 1920s Kitchen
Day 9 – Feb. 2nd – ‘Roaring 20s’
Day 10 – Feb. 3rd – Chapter 2 – Micro Excerpt #2
Day 11 – Feb. 4th – 4 Roaring Twenties Movies
Day 12 – Feb. 5th – 1928 Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce
Day 13 – Feb. 6th – Speakeasy
Day 14 – Feb. 7th – Chapter 2 – Micro Excerpt #3
Day 15 – Feb. 8th – Pre-FBI – brief history
Day 16 – Feb. 9th – 1920s Radio
Day 17 – Feb. 10th – Bulletproof body armor with Excerpt #4
Day 18 – Feb. 11th – “The Hedge”
Day 19 – Feb. 12th – What did it cost? 1925-1929
Day 20 – Feb. 13th – Hello? Who’s calling?
Day 21 – Feb. 14th – 1920s reference books and book video

Casimir Zeglen References:
(PDF) Tailored to the Times: The Story of Casimir Zeglen’s Silk Bullet-Proof Vest (researchgate.net)
The Monk Who Stopped Bullets with Silk: Inventing the Bulletproof Vest | Article | Culture.pl




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