It was the shot that rang around the world. On 28 June 1914, 19-year-old Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip fired a gun at Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, Sophie, on a civic visit in Sarajevo at near point-blank range. Their deaths ignited a chain of events that culminated in the Great War, better known today as World War I. Ferdinand was well-aware of simmering political tensions in the Balkans, as well as the risk of an attempt on his life. (His uncle had survived an assassination bid of his own a few years earlier.) Before he died, Ferdinand reportedly owned but neglected to wear an early form body armor, which Polish inventor Casimir Zeglen devised from silk and other textiles But could the rumored vest have stopped the bullet, and possibly saved the world from one of the deadliest conflicts in history?

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The Royal Armouries in England, which had replicas of the vests made to the original specifications, is testing them with ammunition and weapons similar to Princip’s 1910 Browning semi-automatic pistol. “We have tested the body armor against pistols of varying calibers, at the National Firearms Centre in Leeds,” Lisa Traynor, First World War researcher at the museum, says on its blog. “The process has tried to replicate the assassination as closely as possible.”

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Traynor says her interest was piqued when she stumbled upon a pistol of the same make that killed Ferdinand and his wife. “In examining its serial number I realized it was only 516 away from the actual pistol used in the assassination and would probably have been manufactured around the same time,” she . “This made me think about the ‘what if?’ scenario surrounding the death of the Archduke. If he hadn’t been killed, would the war have been delayed? I then considered the body armor from the turn of the 20th century and how this might have been achieved.”

The results of the research will be revealed at Bullets, Blades and Battle Bowlers, an exhibit about World War I arms and armor that will open to the public in September.

“I don’t want to reveal too much before the opening of the exhibition,” Traynor says. “However, I can report that silk does have bullet-stopping capabilities!”

+ Royal Armouries

[Via the Guardian]