Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006
Fun with Radiation: Finding your Child’s Shoe Size
“When I was a girl, every shoe store had an appliance that X-rayed the foot of the prospective shoe-buyer. These were finally banned once everyone realized how much stray and directed radiation was inflicted on young children.” — My mom.
Dear ol’ radioactive Gramma looked at the Sorosis shoe advertisement linked on my Historical Baby Gear Images blog entry and shot me an e-mail filled with memories. Never mind the ad was from 1905, four decades before shoe stores began radiating people as a sales gimmick for sizing feet. Gramma has a very tangential mind.
The Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope was a device you stood on in a shoe store while your feet were X-rayed in real-time. Through three viewing windows, the child, parent and salesperson could watch young Johnny wiggle his toes inside the shoe. These devices were in use from the 1930s through 1950s.
No worries. A 1 millimeter thick piece of aluminum provided shielding as you stood on this giant X-ray tube (an Adrian machine, depicted in the photo).
Some sources I read indicate exposure was equal to the radiation you receive from natural sources for an entire year. In other words, you double your exposure if you buy shoes once a year. But the period of exposure varied, 5 to 45 seconds with a default machine setting of 20 seconds. You know young Johnny zapped himself over and over and over again whether he needed shoes or was just wasting time while mom browsed for herself.
Check out a detailed explanation of the Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope at the Oak Ridge Associated Universities’ Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection (source of the photo above).
Also: general information about fluorscopes.
As for my family, I let Little Miss tell me whether a shoe is good or not. At almost 2-years-of-age, she uses her X-ray vision to say, “Fit” or “No fit.”
Addendum: Our Auntie M e-mailed to chime in:
“I just wanted to tell you that I, too, zapped my little self with X-rays at the machine at a Buster Brown shoe store. It was a lot of fun then. Imagine Mom’s dismay when we found out years later how dangerous those machines were.”