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Obituary: Numb John Inventor Guido Tanzini

January 11, 2012  | 

Photo: Dummies Unlimited
Photo: Dummies Unlimited

Guido J. Tanzini, the inventor of the "Numb John" training dummy, has died at the age of 85.

Tanzini developed the training product in 1959, so officers could train with batons in a more realistic way. At the time, officers were striking an Everlast punching bag or hand-held strike bag.

Numb John became an iconic law enforcement training dummy with the attributes of a free-standing human being that could endure thousands of baton strikes. Agencies now use Numb John as a more versatile product to also train officers with less-lethal ballistics, pepper spray, and TASER.

Tanzini was born in Trenton, N.J., in 1926. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943. He was one of the American servicemen who landed on Normandy Beach in France a few weeks after D-Day. Several months later, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, a decisive victory for the allies. When the war ended, he attended the Nuremberg Trials in Germany.

After the war, he arrived home in New Jersey, got married, and moved to California where he became an upholsterer. Within a few years, he owned his own upholstery business called G.J. Custom, which he operated for 32 years.

In 1957, he was asked by a training coordinator at the local criminal justice college to repair their punching bags. After repairing them annually for a couple years, Guido asked if there would be a need for a more realistic baton target in the shape of a real suspect. The coordinator said, "Absolutely."

Within a few months in 1959 and 1960, Guido developed the Numb John baton training dummy. The original Numb John consisted of a sewn canvas dummy with arms, legs, head, and torso, all stuffed tightly with cotton. A rope around his arm pits suspended him from the ceiling. This glorified piñata flailed from side to side just like its predecessor, the hanging strike bag.

By 1965, Guido had developed a steel frame for Numb John that allowed him to be free standing. To add to the realism, Guido made Numb John's right arm and hand project forward to simulate a weapon attack His feet were attached to a wheeled platform that also made him a movable and transportable training aide that could be used indoors and out.

In the mid-1960s, polyurethane foams were developed and had proven themselves as a replacement for traditional padding. In 1969, the first molded Numb John was created. This version was outfitted with a nylon-reinforced vinyl suit that was sewn in a way so it didn't show a single wrinkle.

In the mid '90s, expandable batons with a small steel ball at the tip were taking their toll on Numb John's exterior surface. In 2003, Guido, his son Phil, and 18-year-old grandson Nicolas, developed a durable yet flexible coating that's soft enough to punch and durable enough to tolerate all batons as well as the evolving development of the less-lethal ballistics market. This product was called Numb John XT (Extra Tough) and sold via the company Dummies Unlimited.

Numb Johns have remained popular because they allow officers to develop motor memory from repetition, according to Phil Tanzini, the company's director of operations.

"Since most agencies only train once per year with their baton, very little skill is retained by the officer," according to Tanzini. "Having Numb John available in a training room, briefing room, or sally port on the divisional level, allows officers to develop motor memory without costing the agency any additional training time or money."

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