The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lists records dating back to 1919 for various designs of bullet proof vests and body armor type garments. One of the first documented instances where such a garment was demonstrated for use by law enforcement officers was detailed in the April 2, 1931 edition of the Washington, D.C., Evening Star, where a bullet proof vest was demonstrated to members of the Metropolitan Police Department.
One of the first recorded instances of the use of soft body armor was by the medieval Japanese, who used armor plate manufactured from silk. It was not until the late 19th century that the first use of soft body armor in the United States was recorded. At that time, the military explored the possibility of using soft body armor manufactured from silk. This form of armor plate project even attracted congressional attention after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.
This form of armor plate proved successful after the garments were shown to be effective against low-velocity bullets, those traveling at 400 feet per second or less, but however this armor plate did not offer protection against the new generation of handgun ammunition being introduced at that time. Ammunition that traveled at velocities of more than 600 feet per second. This, along with the prohibitive cost of silk made this new armor plate concept unacceptable. Silk body armor of this type was said to have been worn by Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria when he was killed by a shot to the head, thereby precipitating World War I.
As early as the dawning of time armor plate of some sort whether animal hides or wood has been used to defeat weaponry. Dating back to the Ancient Greeks and civilizations around the world people have created some form of protectant body armor during battle. Whether this armor was an armor plate using layers of bronze or animal skin layered over to form fit a torso thereby creating protectant body armor. As civilizations became more advanced, wooden shields and then metal shields came into use. These shields became mobile armor plate or carried body armor as we reference today.
The Roman’s Legions under the command of Julius Caesar saw a change in armor plate and all Legionaries wore uniformed body armor and armor plate designed shield mixed with bronze or metal. The Romans changed their weaponry as well and developed a standing military force up unto that time the world had never seen. The end result was world power for hundreds of years. Body armor can be extremely effective in terms of a whole military force as proven by the Greeks and expanded by the Romans.
Eventually, metal was also seen in expansion to body armor, what we now refer to as the suit of armor associated with the knights of the Middle Ages. Shields used as armor plate were still in use but the history of body armor was changing. However, with the invention of firearms around 1500, metal body armor became ineffective.
As history has changed with the advancement of weapons and ballistics, body armor and armor plate material has also changed with it. As time goes on it maintains a constant race for the development of advanced weaponry and stronger armor to defeat it. After the invention of cannons and early rifles body armor and the technology to develop some form of armor plate seemed ineffective for the average soldier on the battlefield. The only form of armor plate that seemed to defeat the rifle and even canon fire was thick iron used as armor plate on the sides of naval vessels as this was seen on both sides of the American Civil War.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that armor plate made an amazing comeback and for the first time in history it seemed body armor for the average soldier and law enforcement was on the superior side.
Body armor plates has advanced from hides and skins, to metal, to super strong synthetic fibers, to super strong synthetic hard materials. These new super strong hard materials are called ceramics. Ceramics are some of the hardest materials known to man. Unlike materials like Kevlar which uses its fibers to “catch” the bullet, ceramics are so hard they break the projectile. The strongest ceramic armor plates are made of boron carbide. The ceramic armor plates are made by compressing and baking the boron carbide powder in a kiln at 4000 degrees Fahrenheit. The plates are then used in conjunction (or stand alone) with bulletproof vests to defend against high powered rifle rounds and dangerous weapons ballistics and fragmentation.
So with all these obvious benefits of ceramic body armor, you’re probably wondering what the downfalls are. Well the biggest downfall of ceramic body armor is both a good thing and a bad thing. When a ceramic body armor plate is hit by a projectile it cracks and splinters so each subsequent hit weakens the armor plate more. The bad is fairly obvious, soldiers probably aren’t carrying extra ceramic armor plates around, if they take a lot of hits in the same area. There has been a lot of research into how to minimize this effect. Elastic materials, shrinking the bullet proof plates and even making the ceramic armor plates out of small ceramic pebbles and fireproof glue have been some methods. The good might not be as obvious but it’s very beneficial. Because the ceramic armor plates cracks, it dissipates the force of the projectile without injuring the soldier. Ceramic body armor inserts for bulletproof vests aren’t the only uses that have been found for ceramic armor plates either.
Since ceramic body armor is so strong, up to 5 times stronger than steel (initial impact) and also up to 70% lighter, more and more potential is emerging from ceramics. Advancements are happening every day, just recently some scientists are claiming they can make ceramic armor plates even stronger with the help of nanotechnology. Who knows what will be developed next?