Polish inventors have contributed numerous creations, such as incandescent bulbs and automotive windshield wipers. Among them is an invention in the history of Polish technical thought that undeniably saved many lives — the bulletproof vest.
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The bulletproof vests were invented by two Polish individuals: Jan Szczepanik and Kazimierz Żegleń. Szczepanik, often called the “Polish Edison” or the “Leonardo da Vinci of Galicia,” was a self-taught technician who authored over 50 inventions. Kazimierz Żegleń, a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection and a businessman conducting affairs in the USA, also played a significant role. He invented airless and puncture-resistant tires.
The initial association that comes to mind when hearing the phrase “bulletproof vest” from the early 20th century might be a thick steel plate covered in fabric, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Polish thinkers did not use any plates, steel, or other metals. Instead, they employed multiple layers of fabric. The strength of Szczepanik’s design lay in a specialized sewing technique. The inventor had such confidence in the effectiveness of his idea that he personally underwent public tests to demonstrate its durability.
The creators gained fame thanks to a specific incident. During one of King Alfonso XIII of Spain’s carriage rides, a terrorist attack took place, and a bomb exploded beneath the carriage. The king emerged unharmed, all thanks to the fabric-covered vehicle based on Szczepanik’s concept. The vehicle survived the bomb attack, and the world learned about the Polish invention.
Bulletproof vests gradually became essential equipment not only for various services but also for criminals. However, the design of the Polish vest quickly became ineffective as weapons evolved and became more powerful. Nevertheless, Polish ingenuity evolved through the interest of interested companies. Without Jan Szczepanik and Kazimierz Żegleń, the course of world history might have been different.
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