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.

Photo of the Adrian machine, a wooden shoe fitting fluoroscope. Photo from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities' Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection.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.”

Comments

7 Responses to “Fun with Radiation: Finding your Child’s Shoe Size”

  1. brettdl says:

    That’s just amazing. I remember seeing those things when I was a kid, but they weren’t in use, just decoration.

    May 23rd, 2006 at 6:04 pm

  2. Charlene Gahagan says:

    I have been through my second round of breast cancer. In an effort to protect my daughter and granddaughters, I went through genetic testing only to find out the doctors told me this little machine caused my cancer. Has anyone else experienced this?

    July 19th, 2006 at 3:13 pm

  3. Nick says:

    What in the world happened to shoe horns for children? My 1 year old son is now walking but it is a nightmare getting his shoes on. It would be so much easier with a shoe horn but all I find is adult size shoe horns. Any help is greatly welcomed & appreciated!

    November 13th, 2006 at 9:46 am

  4. ollie says:

    hello.

    this is facinating.

    i’d love to get my feet meaured by radiation !

    Thedanger gives me such a buzz ! :D

    April 28th, 2008 at 3:37 am

  5. Troy says:

    Charlene: The doctors have no way to know for sure that this machine caused your cancer. Breast cancer has many risk factors and increased exposure to X-rays is only one of them.

    That said, if you hung around one of these machines day after day for years, then yes, it’s a likely culprit.

    June 12th, 2010 at 10:02 pm

  6. AK says:

    There was one of these still in use in an Anchorage, AK Sears shoe dep’t as late as 1967.

    February 1st, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  7. Biff says:

    The article says these were in use through the 1950s. The Science Museum of Minnesota has one of these that was taken out of service in the 1980s.

    February 1st, 2011 at 7:09 pm

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