Smith's Patent Civil War Bullet Proof Vest


Multiple bullet damages on the iron breastplates.


Breastplate Weight - 2.2lbs 


This artifact was purchased by Chase Pipes during the 2021 Chasing History Adventure. 



An all original, American Civil War era, bulletproof vest/body armor. It was made on the ”Smith’s” patent. The set consists of 2 sheet iron breastplates meant to protect the wearer’s chest, with shoulder supports and the original fabric vest. These vests were made in 3 sizes 1, 2, and 3. As per the original tag, inside the left breastplate, this is a size No. 2. The fabric vest is probably wool on the outside, and cotton or linen on the inside. It has two, interior quilted, pockets at the front with buttons, at the bottom, to hold the sheets of iron in place. These vests were nicknamed, by the soldiers, as ”Monitor” about the Union ironclad ship. This particular vest shows bullet damage and is probably why the original owner kept it. It had saved his life, at least four times.


Overall Height: 18″ ea.

Width: 9″ ea.


Condition: Iron plates show bullet damage, but retains much of their original black paint finish with some rust where it is missing – Tag is very good with only the right lower corner missing – Vest shows considerable blood and or rust staining, wear, fraying, and is very weak in many areas, also missing 3 buttons at the front closure and all of its interior buttons


This innovative piece of armor was developed in the United States, and worn exclusively by Union forces during the American Civil War (1861-1865). In general, it seems that men on both sides viewed the wearing of body armor as rather cowardly. This meant that armor was, as much as possible, disguised to resemble the normal military uniforms of the day, as can be seen in this example. However, the Confederates regarded the wearing of concealed armor as particularly 'yellow', and so the practice never caught on among the Southern forces.


This example was manufactured by Smith, Cook & Company of New Haven, Connecticut. taking their inspiration from the steel cuirasses of earlier centuries, these vests were not only rigid and heavy to wear but also provided little defensive value against high-caliber muskets. They were even less effective against the newer rifles with the Minié ball.


What is perhaps more interesting than the actual usefulness of this piece of armor is how it grants an insight into the relationship between rank and wealth, and access to better protection. Vests like these were not standard issues and would have been expensive to buy. During the Civil War, the majority of lower ranks on both sides were obliged to travel on foot, carrying their equipment and supplies on their backs. As a result, even if a soldier did possess such a vest, the need to dispose of heavy and non-essential items in the event of fatigue and so on, meant it was often soon abandoned. Therefore it was only the Union officers, who went on horseback and did not carry their packs, who could afford the luxury of such a device.


** G. and D. Cook & Co. Carriage Makers **

In 1860 the firm of G. and D. Cook and Company was the largest carriage manufactory in the world; working on an assembly-line system. The there illustrated catalog has many elaborate borders surrounding their advertisements of carriages. In addition, about 120 other businesses in New Haven have advertisements in the catalog.


** The American Civil War **

The American Civil War was a civil war in which the United States fought between states supporting the federal union and southern states that voted to secede and form the Confederate States of America. The central cause of the war was the status of slavery, especially the expansion of slavery into newly acquired land after the Mexican–American War. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, four million of the 32 million Americans were black slaves, mostly in the South.


The value of this artifact is firm. No offers will be accepted. 

Smith's Patent Civil War Bullet Proof Vest

SKU: Civil War Bullet Proof Vest - $14500.00
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