Bulletproof vests weren’t invented by the army, or even the police. They’re the result of a brainwave by a beleaguered pizza delivery man in 1969. Meet the average Joe who saved lives with a single bright idea.
It was July 21, 1969, the night after Apollo 11 headed for the moon, and Richard Davis, a former marine turned pizza shop owner, was held up while making a delivery in a rough part of Detroit. His attackers had guns but so did he and, in the shootout that followed, he wounded two of them and was hit twice himself.
The event set him thinking about a way to give people, particularly police officers who found themselves in the same situation, a second chance. With a roll of nylon and the straps from his car’s seat belts he set about creating his first design for body armour that could be concealed beneath clothes.
Once he was certain that his vest worked, he toured police departments giving live demonstrations, shooting himself in the chest to prove the technology worked. In August 1974, he patented his second soft body armour design using Kevlar, which is 230% stronger than the nylon he originally used.
Second Chance Body Armour, as he called his company, went on to become a $50m business. Subsequently it faced bankruptcy after introducing a new type of vest. Using zylon, it proved to be far less effective than the kevlar that came before it.
In 2005, Second Chance was bought up by Armor Holdings. It was eventually folded into a new company called Safariland, when Armor was in turn was purchased by British arms conglomerate, BAE.
Despite his later travails, by saving hundreds of lives with an idea that sprang from that hijacked pizza delivery, Richard Davis remains a heroic inventor. See him demonstrating his vests by taking a bullet in the video below. And after you’ve watched it, ask yourself: Who invented the mechanical pencil?