The Woman Behind The Bulletproof Vest

The Woman Behind The Bulletproof Vest

Do you know what superhero has saved the lives of thousands of police officers and soldiers shot in the line of duty? If you guessed that her name was Stephanie, you’re right. If not, you may be interested in learning about a remarkable woman named Stephanie Kwolek. Though she recently died at age 90, Stephanie Kwolek’s legacy has altered the world and will, no doubt, continue to do so indefinitely. Kwolek was the inventor of Kevlar, the lightweight, stronger-than-steel fiber that was first put to lifesaving use in bulletproof vests, helmets and body armor.

A pioneer in a male-dominated field, chemist Kwolek worked for DuPont in their Wilmington, Delaware laboratories. There in 1965, when she was 42, she made her historic breakthrough. Looking for fibers that could replace steel in reinforcing automobile tires, she invented a rigid-chain polymer solution that could be spun into super-strong, stiff material unlike anything that had been made before. Five times stronger by weight than steel, DuPont had to get new equipment just to test its strength.

Lightweight and durable, Kevlar soon became the main component in protective gear. There are countless testimonials as to lives saved and injuries prevented thanks to Kwolek’s discovery. 3,100 police officers alone are members of a "Survivors Club" thanks to her. But Kevlar’s impact doesn’t stop there; it’s also used in airplanes, armored military vehicles, cellphones, sailboats, spacesuits, computer notebooks, and of course tires. Because it minimizes vibration and can bend without shattering, Kevlar is significantly used in sporting equipment.

Kwolek was the only female DuPont employee to be awarded the company medal for outstanding technical achievement. She died just one day after DuPont’s announcement that one million bullet-resistant vests have been sold using DuPont Kevlar XP since the product was launched. Next year, DuPont will celebrate Kevlar's 50th anniversary. No one knows better than they that it’s truly the stuff of superheroes.