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We know that Howard Stark was developing radical technologies. So when he comes upon a small, finite supply of the most valuable, world-changing metal known to humans, the first thing he does is whip it up into a "prototype" shield and then forget to even put it on a shelf? Then he sends it into battle where it could easily be lost (and eventually is for nearly 70 years), instead of, say, studying it in a lab to try to figure out how to make more?

Why did Howard Stark use all the Vibranium they had on a prototype shield?

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It wasn't on the top of the shelf because it was a prototype and Steve was about to go into combat missions across of Europe. You don't send someone out on a live mission with just a prototype.

He pulls up a cart with A NUMBER OF SHIELDS, some built, some half-finished (including the one from Iron Man 2).

HOWARD STARK: (CONT’D) I took the liberty of coming up with a few options. (picking one up) This one’s fun. It’s fitted with transistorized relays.

Steve pulls out A PLAIN, ROUND SHIELD from the bottom shelf. He spins it between his palms. It’s light, balanced. Steve pings the simple shield. IT RINGS LIKE A BELL.

STEVE: What about this one?

HOWARD STARK: Oh, that’s just a prototype. Now this one-

STEVE: What’s it made of?

HOWARD STARK: Vibranium. Stronger than steel and a third of the weight.

Steve slides the shield onto his arm.

HOWARD STARK: (CONT’D) It’s completely vibration absorbent. Should make a bullet feel like a cotton ball.

BEHIND THEM, PEGGY ENTERS THE LAB.

STEVE: How come it’s not standard issue?

HOWARD STARK: It’s the rarest metal on earth. What you’re holding there, that's all all we’ve got.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Now why did he create it into a shield? It's possible it was all created into a disc just to test the properties of Vibranium and that it wasn't actually a shield prototype but just a prototype for the material. At that point they may not have known about how to reforge it or just hadn't gotten around to it. Stark was focusing on a lot of different things at once.

It's also worth noting that if that is all they have got, as Stark claims, then it isn't going to be terribly useful on a large scale. You need to find one main purpose for it and well, I can't think of any immediate better uses for it. Any use would only help one person and then who do you decide to give it to? Seems like a lot of potential is in the material but with so little of it that potential is pretty worthless.

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    @DavidMulder Or people would end up wearing it on their bodies as status symbols. Which is... kind of what Cap does in the end? – ComicSansMS Apr 9 at 16:17
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    @TheLethalCarrot "Now why did he create it into a shield?" - There's speculation that it wasn't originally meant to be a shield. – Lord Farquaad Apr 9 at 18:42
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    The juxtaposition of "It rings like a bell" and "It's completely vibration absorbent" has always bothered me. What do they think sound is exactly? – Kevin Wells Apr 9 at 21:22
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    @KevinWells The vibrations seem to be redirected rather than absorbed. At least in some instances. For example, throwing the shield at a metal wall should have the shield impact the wall, come to a dead stop, and drop to the floor. Any "bouncing" impulse should be completely absorbed. – Michael Richardson Apr 9 at 22:16
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    That is definitely the case, but it always says it absorbs all vibrations, which it obviously doesn't. Also if it rings like bell when knocked on, imagine how much it will vibrate when it gets shot. That would be really loud and really uncomfortable when your arm is strapped to it. Also if it is bouncy enough to ricochet off of walls it would also transfer a ton of any incoming force that it is supposed to block – Kevin Wells Apr 9 at 22:58
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Any answer to this question is going to be pure conjecture, since this is never explicitly dealt with in the MCU.

My guesses:

  • They experimented with smaller pieces, and observed its vibration absorption properties.
  • In the era the the film is set, Kevlar was yet to be invented and implemented into personnel protection armour.
  • An element that could repel all incoming projectiles with no impact highly suited the profile for armour.
  • Since they did not have the understanding of Vibranium to craft it into a suit, a shield seemed a logical choice as a piece of armour.

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