Automotive

How The Shooting Of A Detroit Pizza Delivery Man Led To The Invention Of The Kevlar Vest


FBI agents in riot gear.

FBI agents in riot gear.
Photo: Robyn BECK (Getty Images)

Detroit, history and pizza are very near and dear to me, so when I heard this story about a pizza shop owner in Detroit inventing the kevlar vest after being shot at while out on delivery, I couldn’t believe this hadn’t fallen under my radar before. It tickles me so much I had to bring it to you, dear reader.

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In 1969, former U.S. Marine Richard Davis was delivering two large pepperoni and ham pizzas from his shop on 7 Mile in Detroit. He had an inkling that it was ordered by the same guys who robbed his fiancée a few weeks before, as they placed the same pizza order.

Now, a normal person would just not deliver the pizzas. It’s not like they paid for them via an app or something. But it’s the principle of the thing. You don’t just rob a small business owner’s fiancée and then have the dumbass idea to do the exact same crime again. Someone has to take a stand.

And that’s what Davis did; instead of ignoring the order, he delivered the pizzas to the crooks, plus several slugs of hot lead from his .22 revolver. From the Washington Post:

The streetwise Davis came prepared for an assault, but his body was unprepared for the two bullets that nailed him seconds later, one glancing off his head just beneath the frame of his glasses and the other plowing into the back of his leg.

Rather than falling to the ground, Davis somehow managed to wound two of his three attackers. “Thank God for the ‘Saturday Night Special,’ “ he said, referring to the small, cheap handgun his attackers used. “I was hit twice, but I got four hits on them, so I won the game on points, I guess.”

When his pizzeria burned to the ground weeks later, he found himself out of a job, recovering from bullet wounds, and almost penniless.

Yeah… that will happen when you try to apply your own brand of justice. Busted up and without work, Davis somehow got his hands on a roll of ballistic nylon material recently developed by Michigan-based DuPont Co. Labs. He made a vest of ultra-light bullet proof material and ran multiple tests. He wasn’t getting any interest from law enforcement, however. He realized he needed a gimmick. Something to prove that it worked in spectacular fashion. From the Post:

So Davis arranged in 1972 to film his first live product demonstration with an 8mm camera near the small town of Walled Lake, Mich.

“I told the cops there that I was going to do this out in the middle of a field somewhere—just to prove that it works—with no ambulance standing by,” Davis said.

Wearing one of his own creations, he kneeled in the grass and turned a gun toward his chest, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger with his thumb. “I did it, and it worked.”

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He even filmed it for his own promotional material. Please be aware this video features footage of Davis shooting himself and might be disturbing for some readers:

Davis’ Kevlar vests became a huge hit, and similar designs are still worn by law enforcement all over the world. Second Chance as a company, however, does not survive to this day. It was liquidated in 2004 in the midsts of a scandal involving false claims over defective Zylon bullet-proof vests sold to federal and state agencies. In 2018, Davis settled with the federal government for a little over $1.5 million.

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Despite the decline in the company, Second Chance vests claimed to have saved over 800 “documented” lives since the vest’s invention in the early 2000s. It possibly saved more. Which makes you wonder: What else can pizza do?

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