The History of Protective Armor

 Before there were bullets, there were blades. Early protective armor deflected the sharp edges of knives and swords, but would prove to be less effective at deflective musket balls.

As weaponry evolved, so too did protection against it. From chainmail to bulletproof vests, body armor has come a long way.

The History of Protective Armor

Tis But a Scratch

When all people had to contend with was a spear, a sword, or a club, metal plates provided effective protection in battle. Instead of wielding a bulky shield, soldiers wore the bulky plates on their bodies. It’s believed the earliest form of armor is body plates and chainmail, which is dated to about 1400 BC. This protection was introduced by the Greeks and has been improved upon for centuries.

Composition of Early Body Armor

Natural materials were often used in the creation of body armor. Greek suits of armor were made of bronze, and individual plates were formed to offer protection to the torso, neck, and head, as well as the limbs. As you can imagine, it was difficult to move deftly while wearing a bronze suit of armor.

Romans are credited with improving the mobility of body armor, integrating leather components to complement the metal. As battles raged during Medieval times, new weapons of warfare and forms of protection were continually developed. 

What Body Armor Was Made Of

  • wood
  • bronze, steel, or iron
  • fabric and leather

Types of Body Armor

For centuries, humankind has turned to natural resources for food, shelter, and clothing. Manufacturing armor was no exception, and much of it was created with raw materials provided by the Earth.

Animal Hides

Leather made from animal skin served as an initial form of protection during battle. Rhinoceros plates were also used by early Chinese fighters.

Metal Plates

Once metals were mined, they were forged for helmets, torso shields, arm coverings, and more.

Chainmail

Chainmail involved the intricate linking of small metal rings to form a moveable suit. It could be worn from head to toe (like a dress with slits for riding horseback) or could supplement plate armor.

Lamellar

Lamellar was formed by creating horizontal rows of small, rectangular bronze, iron, steel, and leather pieces to cover the body.

Lorica Segmentata

This armor is iconic for Roman soldiers and consists of metal strips held together by leather straps.

Lorica Squamata

Metal scales were sewn onto fabric worn by the soldier.

Bulletproof Protection in the 1800s and 1900s

Believe it or not, since it was cheaper to give a soldier a gun than to make protective armor, many went into battle without armor in the 1800s. Plus, since the armor was still being designed to deflect blades and not bullets, it made little sense to be weighed down by 40-pound metal plates or chainmail. 

Experimentation was conducted by individuals using silk as a component in bulletproof armor, but implementation was halted as bullet velocity increased and proved silk ineffective. While low-velocity bullets could be deflected with some armor made with silk, anything traveling at more than 600 feet per second could plow through.

Unfortunately, a lack of research, development, and funding led to unprecedented death during World War I; it’s believed that 75% of the injuries and fatalities could have been avoided if there had been the resources and time available to supply soldiers with bulletproof armor.

Although it wasn’t practical to outfit every soldier in WWI with protective armor, some soldiers took it upon themselves to add some form of bullet protection to their standard-issue uniforms. More often than not, soldiers would purchase supposed bulletproof vests from streetside peddlers in an attempt to protect themselves in battle.

The first bulletproof vests were forged from cast iron, which meant they were heavy. Offered by both G & D Cook & Company as well as Atwater Armor Company, the vests were designed to deflect .45 caliber bullets from as close as 10 feet.

More commonplace, though, were soldiers seeking protection from bullets by stationing themselves in trenches, behind stone walls, or out of range of the enemy. Manmade barriers for deflecting bullets were more cost-effective and trustworthy than bulletproof apparel. 

World War II Bulletproof Vests

Known as flak jackets, soldiers in WWI wore ballistic nylon vests that protected them from low-velocity shrapnel. The vests also had a release tab so if a soldier found themselves in water they could pull the tab, release the steel plate from their vest, and swim to safety.

Modern Bullet Proofing

In an effort to provide protection against bullets, small metal or ceramic plates were worn by soldiers in vests. Eventually, synthetic materials would be introduced, resulting in some of the more effective bulletproof vests available today.

Fibrous Glass Plastic

Developed in 1943 by Dow Chemical Company this vest contained layers of fiberglass bonded together. It’s known as Doron today.

M12 Vest

Aluminum plates and nylon cloth. It weighed a mere 12 pounds, which was a substantial improvement compared to previous vests.

Kevlar

In the 1970s, DuPont Kevlar was introduced. Vests made with this synthetic fiber are less bulky and lighter weight. It can protect against up to 800 degrees of heat, can stop a large-caliber bullet, and can deflect sharp objects (knives, shrapnel, etc…)

Twaron

Originally manufactured by Akzo in the 1970s, Twaron is now produced by Teijin Aramid. Similar to Kevlar, this synthetic fabric is heat, ballistic, and cut resistant. It is also lightweight and flexible, making it a better choice than plate vests of the past.

Bulletproof Glass

Other forms of bulletproof protection include bulletproof, or ballistic, glass. Although not 100% effective at all times, it serves as an additional layer of protection when it comes to gunfire. Consisting of multiple layers of laminated glass, it can protect against a variety of bullets depending on how many layers are present.

Although glass has been around for centuries (you can read about its history HERE), bulletproof glass was first patented in 1982. One of its most famous uses is for the “Popemobile,” a vehicle with a glass-enclosed seating area for the Pope’s public appearances.

With the right to bear arms protecting the lawful possession of firearms, exploring tactical gear can be enticing; whether you own a gun for personal protection, for hunting, or for sport, you might want to add a vest or armor to your arsenal. It can serve as a valuable training component that enhances your skills as a sharpshooter.

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