Do you remember going to the shoe store, trying on Buster Brown shoes and stepping into an x-ray machine to look at your feet to make sure they fit?

Shoe Fluoroscope, manufactured circa 1938, man...

Shoe Fluoroscope, manufactured circa 1938, manufactured by Adrian Shoe Fitter, Inc. that was used in a Washington, DC Shoe Store. This machine is currently displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seemed so efficient. Sure, the shoe store salesman measured your feet first to see what size you were, then checked to see if your toes were far enough from the toe of the shoe by pinching the toe.

But, the final step was to step into the x-ray machine where everyone, your parents, the salesman, and you, could see your feet inside the shoe and make sure they were far enough away from the edges.

It was the 1950s, when science could make everyone’s life better. Except, what seemed like a good idea at the time turned out to have unintended risks.

The shoe-fitting fluoroscope was invented by Dr. Jacob Lowe, a Boston physician, initially to diagnose foot injuries, then to help make sure boots fit soldiers correctly. He filed a patent on the device in February, 1919. It was granted in January, 1927.  On January 12-15, 1920, the shoe fluoroscope was introduced to the public at the National Shoe Retailers Association Convention in Boston, Massachusetts.

By the early 1950s, there were 10,000 machines in use. Regulation of the devices and recommendations for safe doses and number of times used in a year had started in 1946, by the American Standards Association, and was refined by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) in 1950.

Within a few years, though, a number of professional organizations began issuing warnings about their use, including the ACGIH and the American College of Surgeons, the New York Academy of Medicine, and the American College of Radiology.

The District of Columbia and Massachusetts soon decided they must be operated by a medical professional and the state of Pennsylvania banned them outright in 1957. By 1960, insurance companies were starting to weigh in against them. By 1970, 33 states had banned them and, though there was still one operating in Virginia as late as 1981, most were gone by the end of the 1970s.

While no customers were injured, some shoe salesmen and women suffered dermatitis from putting their hands in the machine when a customer had their feet in it and a shoe model received a radiation burn that caused her to have her leg amputated.

You can see what you used to see in the x-ray machines by clicking on this YouTube video, ” X-ray Shoe Fit Check 1920s.”


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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