We go from this bear-fighting armor to old-timey sportsmen simulating polite murder. Yes, it's been a strange day.

In the early 1900s, if you craved all the thrills of a duel with pistols — but wished to avoid pulling an Alexander Hamilton — you and a trigger-happy compatriot could don some modified, Mad Max-like fencing armor and blow each other away with wax bullets.


This pastime seemed to hit its zenith in the opening decade of the 1900s, when the availability of wax bullets (and Parisian innovation) allowed duelists to delight in mock fatal standoffs. On March 10, 1909, Dr. Graeme M. Hammond and C.B. Miller enjoyed a deathsport-for-laughs at the Carnegie Hall gymnasium. Here are some photos of a chummy, dummy duel between the two.

And several days earlier in 1909, some fuddy-duddies at the New York Athletic Club had the gall to question the practicality of this proto-paintball...

The bullets were of wax, and they are the first importations from France, where they have been used for some time with great interest and amusement. Some of the older members of the club were disposed to regard this wax bullet shooting as bordering close on child's play, but all agreed that it a fine shooting game, and the members of the fencing department are going to shoot wax bullets at each other at several of the forthcoming fencing competitions by way of diversion.

...which occasionally claimed a few ounces of flesh. As wax duelist Walter Winans recalled in 1908:

When I first tried it several years ago, I shot out the soft piece of flesh connecting the thumb and forefinger of the right hand of M. Gustave Voulquin, the well-known sports writer; and he tells me it still pains him when he has a lot of writing to do.

Wax bullet dueling exhibitions even made a splash at the 1908 Olympics in London (photo above). Reported Popular Science that year:

Great interest was taken in the bloodless dueling tournament at the Olympic games in which the international revolver and pistol championships were contested for. Wax bullets were used, but the combatants were as elaborately protected as a German student duelist, and even the revolvers were equipped with large hand guards. Windows of plate glass were arranged in the helmets.

I'm totally digging the Road Warrior headgear on display here. For another retro-violent moment in sportsmanship that never caught on, see the jai alai warriors of World War II.

[Bartitsu and Rebecca Jenkins via Gothamist]