By Peter Smith
On 16th March, 1897 two men stood face to face in one of Chicago’s main squares, one pointing a revolver at the other. Shots were fired and the ‘victim’ fell to the round and then immediately stood up, totally unscathed. The watching crowd were convinced that either the bullets were blanks, or it was some sort of magnetic trick.
It was neither. It was a material produced by a Catholic priest, Casimer Zeglen, whose ambition had been to invent “a product of great helpfulness to the world.”
Born in Poland in 1869, Zeglen was deeply religious and from early childhood had felt his future would be in a monastic establishment. Despite parental objections, he entered the Resurrectionist Order in Lwow in 1887 and in 1890 he was sent to the United States to take up the position of Sacristan at St. Stanislaus Church in Chicago, the largest Polish church in the country with around 40,000 parishioners.
Whilst outwardly happy, he was also distraught by the many anarchist attacks on public figures and the many assassinations taking place, particularly that of Chicago Mayor, Henry Harrison.
He was convinced that there had to be some way of preventing such deaths from bullet wounds and in the weeks following Harrison’s death he experimented with several materials to find a solution. Yet, what he produced looked more like a medieval suit of armour than a lightweight vest.