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Demonstrating the Bulletproof Vest

You know what sounds like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Tuesday?

Getting shot by three men at close range to test if your bulletproof vest works.

The story behind the above picture traces back to the pioneering work of a Catholic priest, Fr. Casimir Zeglen. His story offers a lesson on the difference between conviction and following the herd.

Casimir Who?

Casimir Zeglen was born in Poland in 1869 and held deeply religious convictions from the start. As soon as he reached the age of 18, a young Zeglen joined the ‘Resurrectionist Order’ in Lwów. However, Zeglen’s superiors sent him to the United States in 1890, and the Polish Catholic ultimately landed at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago (Atlas Obscura).

Then tragedy struck. But more on that in a bit.


The World Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago between May and October of 1893. The fair was a celebration of the 400-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. It was popular. Over 26 million people attended the extravagant fair.

Each day, 150,000 visitors from across the globe traversed its sprawling grounds and fantastical halls filled with inventions and technologies. To name a few, the following were on display:
  • The Ferris Wheel
  • The Dishwasher
  • Electric Incubators for Eggs
  • An Early Fax Machine
  • Electric Irons
  • Sewing Machines
  • Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope

As a quick aside, the story behind the first dishwashing machine is fascinating.

The First Dishwasher

Josephine Cochran is a name that should ring a bell in every kitchen. This 19th-century widow was the entrepreneurial spirit behind dishwashers, an invention that reshaped kitchens and eased a laborious task.

Before he died, Josephine and her husband were active socialites that hosted large dinner parties. To care for her family’s heirloom China, Josephine handwashed every dish personally. This grew tedious. Quickly.

Eventually, Josephine said “If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself.”

And so she did. She built a working prototype in the woodshed behind her house, and by 1886 she had received a patent for her invention.

Despite her initial commercial success, Josephine still needed investors. The investors she met with, however, refused to relinquish their capital unless she handed control to a man and stepped down. At the World’s Fair in 1893, however, Josephine could showcase her product to millions of consumers and investors. Even better, the local restaurants and hotels bought her dishwashers to keep up with the influx of tourists (Source).

The 1893 World’s Fair catapulted Josephine and her Cochran’s Crescent Washing Machine Company into international fame. She sold her business to the company that would eventually become KitchenAid in 1926. In 1986, KitchenAid was acquired by appliance behemoth, Whirlpool.


Two days before the wildly popular World’s Fair in his city came to an end, on October 30, 1893, a disturbed office seeker shot and killed the Mayor of Chicago in his own home. When the police questioned Mayor Harrison’s asasin, the killer stated:

“No, I have never studied [law] or practiced. I just put that pistol in my pocket and went over and shot the Mayor.”

This devastated Chicago and America more broadly. This high-profile assassination detracted from a triumphant World’s Fair, which showcased American strength and global prominence.

For whatever reason, it really devastated our Catholic Priest, Casimir Zeglen. A local newspaper reported:

“the sensitive priest was shocked more than most people, because it occurred to him that there must be some way to create bullet-proof clothing that would protect people who, by their position, are most vulnerable to fanatics.”

And so, like Josephine Cochran just “did it herself”, Zeglen began designing a bullet-proof vest. Here’s something I learned while writing this newsletter… silk is strong AF.

“the technical parameters of raw silk are sufficient to create a fabric resistant to puncture, and the only requirement is a proper method of weaving and, of course, the thickness of the textile.” (Source)

How did people figure out that silk was bulletproof, you may wonder? Around this time, there were a few publicized cases of men being shot in the chest and surviving because a silk handkerchief in their breast pockets, folded a few times, had stopped the bullet.

This inspired Zeglen to explore the application of silk on a larger scale: bulletproof vests. He spent two years experimenting and tinkering, and in 1897 Zeglen received two patents from the USPTO for his invention: “armor protecting against bullets from a handgun”.

Casimir Zeglen then embarked on a global marketing tour to inform the world of his grand invention. He met with state and military leaders in England, France, and Germany to discuss his lifesaving vests.

Although he was not always the target, Zeglen frequently placed himself in the line of fire during public demonstrations (Source).

Like in the unpleasant sounding Tuesday described earlier:

This image is the crux of today’s newsletter. Can you imagine the terror of being shot in the chest while wearing nothing but some intricately woven silk?! SILK!

Most importantly, how much conviction must you have in your own research to willingly place yourself in harm’s way? And that’s just it. True conviction can only come from deep research and long hours. Doing the work.

I’d never let someone shoot me while wearing a silk vest unless I’d spent thousands of hours researching, building, iterating, and studying everything there is to know about bulletproof materials.

Yet Zeglen had done just that. Backed by meticulous research and years of trial and error, Casimir Zeglen demonstrated his invention before the new Chicago Mayor – four years after the assassination of his predecessor – and the Chicago Police Department.

Zeglen could take these risks, and he was financially rewarded for his invention because he had the research and knowledge to back it up with conviction. Good things take time, and you can’t just wing it. Especially when someone is shooting at you.

You know who didn’t have conviction but stupidly took the ultimate risk anyway? These guys:

“At this point of the demonstration, Dr. Westershulte announced that he was willing to have the next test tried on him. A protest was made on the grounds that he was not properly dressed, that is, his undershirt was too thin, while Brother Zeglen wore heavier underwear. But Dr Westershulte insisted on having his way and instructed that the test continue with him as the target.”

Dude. Doctor Westershulte. WHY?!

Also see this idiot:

Luckily for these two gentlemen, their stupid decisions did not prove fatal. However, there is an important caveat and lesson here anyway.

The two men had not actually done any research on this bulletproof invention, silk, its weaving, etc. They were fully placing their lives into Zeglen’s hands, and trusting that he was right. Luckily, Zeglen had, so the pair could continue their day as normal, but with a crazy new story to share.

But if they pulled the same routine five more times, with five different inventors like Casimir Zeglen touting five different bulletproof inventions, would they have survived all five demonstrations?

Probably not.

The man in the second example was willing to throw his literal life away for $5,000 based on his trust that Casimir Zeglen knew what he was doing. Insane!

The same principles apply to investing. When prices rise, it’s easy to invest in something based on convincing research shared by others. As long as prices continue rising, this is fine. However, if you backed the wrong horse and followed someone else’s wrong investment thesis, things become problematic.

Taking stupid risks without proper due diligence is like putting on someone’s “magic silk shirt” and letting them shoot you without doing any research. It could be a legitimate and well-tested bulletproof vest. Or, it could be a total scam and you wind up dead.

Stock markets aren’t as definitive as bullets, but they tend to let you know quickly whether you were wrong. It’s worth taking the time to do the research instead of jumping on a bandwagon and blindly following others.

Missed last week’s article? Catch up here