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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.