The Eccentric Evolution of Boxing Armour

  • Originally published on the site on Monday, 14th June 2010

The first patented suit of boxing armour was registered with the US Patent Office in 1895. Joseph Donovan’s invention offered protection to the most vulnerable parts of the boxer’s anatomy and included an inbuilt electrical scoring system.

At last electricity has been brought to the direct aid of boxers, and the followers of the manly art of self defense will hail with delight the device just patented by Mr. Joseph Donovan of Chicago. We will let Mr. Donovan describe his invention in his own language, as follows:

It is well known that sparring or boxing is one of the most health-giving exercises in the whole range of athletics, developing endurance, stability of physique, a quickness of eyesight and action, and tending to bring out in its finest and quickest form every muscle of the body. Unfortunately, however, with all these good qualities there is a roughness and a brutality with it, which has thrown it almost entirely outside the pale of legitimate athletics, and to eliminate these rough and objectionable features entirely to those practicing boxing by padding over all the vulnerable points above the belt and providing each and all of these points with a registering device, so that all blows shall be rung up and registered automatically, thus reducing boxing to a simple test of quickness and endurance, and nothing more, is the principal object of my invention.

A form of pneumatic armour for boxers was tested in 1897. Unlike Donovan’s suit, the pneumatic armour did not offer any form of scoring function; it was intended simply to preserve the sparring partners of would-be champions in training.

By 1913, another entrepreneur – Dr. Otis Brewster – was promoting his own boxing armour, designed especially so that youngsters could train in boxing safely.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Dr. Brewster patented a heavy-duty suit of steel armour to protect soldiers against small arms fire and in close-quarters bayonet combat.

Although trials proved that the soldiers could kneel, lie down, run and even jump while wearing Brewster’s armour, and that it was proof against both rifle bullets and sledgehammers, it was never adopted by the War Department. This may have been due to the fact that Brewster wanted $600,000 for his invention.

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