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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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The Smoking Gun: 1923

The Smoking Gun: 1923

September 13, 1923. Washington, D.C. "Testing bulletproof vest." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size. [Update: more here.]

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Exchanges of gunfire

The one shooting at Murphy in this picture appears to be Lt. Col. J.C. Stehlin of the Lettish army, who exchanged shots with Murphy as part of the demonstration. Murphy also shot at Park Policeman Richard M. Harper, "the only spectator who volunteered."

Basic physics

Transfer of momentum means the person taking the bullet can't feel any more momentum than the person firing. If they're of the same weight, as these two gentlemen seem to be, the guy getting shot's basically going to feel the recoil of the gun.

I'd be more worried about penetration, of course -- but I suspect the guy wearing the vest was, too, and wanted to see plenty of tests before trying it on himself.

Vest Test

Update: The target is W.H. Murphy of the Protective Garment Corp. of New York. Another photo and more info here.


I am sure that if the picture was taken 15 seconds later he would look different than he does in this shot. I suspect he has not had time to react to the impact.

[There are four photos in this series and the guy looks pretty much the same in each. - Dave]

Practice Dummy

I would think they would have used a practice dummy. Then again, maybe they did.

Dud Checker

Reminds me of the cartoons picturing the guy checking for dud bombs with a hammer.

Target Practice

Yeah, I would think they're blanks. The risk of accidentally sneezing while pulling the trigger and hitting him in the face or legs... or of any other number of things combined with his calmness.

Blazing Bullets

Don't know what kind of bullets they are using, but the target subject looks amazingly calm to have sustained the force of impact from that short range. Doubtless it did have quite an impact and probably left a bruise on his chest. Since the shooter is also wearing a vest, maybe they took turns shooting at each other. It's a thankless job, but somebody's got to do it.

[Or, seeing as how this is a photo-op, maybe they're blanks. - Dave]


I only *thought* my job was tough!

(The vacation package & medical benefits would have to be spectacular to get me to stay on with THIS employer...)

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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