Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope (ca. 1930-1940)
The shoe fitting fluoroscope was a common fixture in
shoe stores during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. A typical unit, like the
Donated by Purdue University, courtesy of Paul Ziemer.
According to Williams (1949), the machines generally
employed a 50 kv x-ray tube operating at 3 to 8 milliamps. When you put
your feet in a shoe fitting fluoroscope, you were effectively standing on
top of the x-ray tube. The only “shielding” between your feet and the
tube was a one mm thick aluminum filter. Some units allowed the operator
to select one of three different intensities: the highest intensity for
men, the middle one for women and the lowest for children.
Most units also had a push button timer that could be set to a desired exposure time, e.g., 5 to 45 seconds. The most common setting was 20 seconds.
The Origin of the Shoe Fitting
X-rays images of feet inside shoes and boots had been produced for a variety of reasons long before the invention of the shoe fitting fluoroscope. Who actually invented the device is something of an open question - it is possible that it was invented independently by more than one individual.
There is a story to the effect that the first shoe-fitting fluoroscope
was built in
There might be elements of truth here, but Valaer’s account is hard
to reconcile with the information found in Baring
the Sole: The Rise and Fall of the Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope
(Duffin and Hayter, 2000). The latter has to be considered the
best historical account of the shoe fitting fluoroscope,
Although Duffin and Hayter are somewhat noncommittal,
it is hard to read their article without concluding that Dr. Jacob Lowe, a
At more or less the same time, a similar device known
as the Pedoscope was invented in
Contrast the preceding with the following quotes from Syl Adrian that appeared in the January 13, 1966 issue of the Fond du Lac (Wisconsin) Commonwealth Reporter:
The X-ray Shoe Fitter Corporation of Milwaukee Wisconsin, which made the Adrian and Simplex lines, and the Pedoscope Company of St. Albans in the U.K, were the two largest manufacturers of shoe fitting fluoroscopes. In the early 1950’s, estimates placed the number of operating units in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada at 10,000, 3,000 and 1,000 respectively.
The earliest reference that I have found to the use of the shoe fitting fluoroscope outside of the United States is the following story from the Manitoba Free Press dated January 2, 1922:
I assume that "plates" refers to a fluorescent screen rather than a photographic plate. The next oldest reference I have found is an ad in the August 8, 1922 issue of the Appleton Post-Crescent that states that "One of the Famous Adrian X-Ray Shoe Fitters" will be in the Novelty Boot Shop during Convention Week.
Concerns and the Legislative Response
In 1946, the American Standards Association
established a “safe standard or tolerance dose,” that the feet receive
no more than 2 R per 5 second exposure. Children were not to receive more
than 12 such exposures in a single year. The State of
By the early 1950s, a number of professional
organizations had issued warnings about the continued use of shoe-fitting
fluoroscopes, e.g., the ACGIH,
Attempts to impose regulatory restrictions on the use
of shoe fitting fluoroscopes seem to have been limited to the
While the exposure rates associated with these machines varied considerably, the measurements reported by various authors are reasonably consistent.
According to Moeller (1996), measurements performed during the late 1940s indicated that the doses to the feet ranged from 7 to 14 R for a 20 second exposure. Doses to the pelvis ranged from 30 to 170 mrem. He also noted that surveys at the time indicated that more than 60 percent of inspected machines exceeded the American Standards Association recommendation of 2 R to the feet per five second exposure.
According to Duffin and Hayter (2000), a 1948 survey
of x-ray machines in
Measurements performed by Williams (1949) ranged from 0.5 to 5.8 R/second to the feet. He also reported exposure rates that were above 100 mR/hr at a distance of ten feet from the front of the unit.
Bavley (1950) reported measurements of 1 to 175 mR/hr (60 mR/hr average) at a height of 18 inches above the floor and 9 inches away from the sides of the machine. The exposure rates 5 feet in front of the machine and 18 inches above the floor were as high as 65 to 160 mR/hr (average: 114 mR/hr)
Despite these relatively high exposures, there were no reported injuries to shoe store customers. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the operators of these machines. Many shoe salespersons put their hands into the x-ray beam to squeeze the shoe during the fitting. As a result, one saleswoman who had operated a shoe fitting fluoroscope 10 to 20 times each day over a ten year period developed dermatitis of the hands. One of the more serious injuries linked to the operation of these machines involved a shoe model who received such a serious radiation burn that her leg had to be amputated (Bavley 1950).
“Before putting the tube in the X-ray Machine, place the machine in the most desirable location. . . . We would suggest that you center the machine in the store so that it will be equally accessible from any point. Of course, it should face the ladies’ and children’s departments by virtue of the heavier sales in these departments.”
“At some time or other a customer may request an examination of the foot without the shoe for diagnosing a bone condition. We suggest that you refer this work to the professional man, and advise your customer to have an X-ray laboratory or doctor whose office is equipped with X-ray, make this inspection.’
Magazine/Newspaper advertisement (ca. late 1940s);
“They’ll Need Their Feet All Through Life.
Guard their foot health carefully through correctly fitted shoes. To help ensure better fit, leading shoe stores use the ADRIAN X-Ray Machine. Whether the shoe clerk is an “old timer” with 20 or more years of fitting experience or a “Saturday extra” who has been on the job only a few weeks, ADRIAN X-Ray Machines help him give your child the most accurate fitting possible.
Text for Radio
Every parent will want to hear this important news!
Now, at last, you can be certain that your children’s foot health
is not being jeopardized by improperly fitting shoes. STORE NAME is now
featuring the new ADRIAN Special Fluoroscopic Shoe Fitting machine that
gives you visual proof in a second that your children’s shoes fit. The
ADRIAN Special Shoe Fitting machine has been awarded the famous PARENT’S
MAGAZINE Seal of Commendation . . .a symbol of safety and quality to
millions of parents all over
Bavley, H. Shoe-fitting with x-ray. National Safety News 62 (3):33, 107-111; 1950.
Directions for Installing and Operating the Adrian X-ray Shoe Fitter. No date.
Duffin, J., Hayter, C.R.R. Baring the Sole: The
Rise and Fall of the Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope.
Fredrick, W.G., Smith, R.G. Fifty Years of Progress:
1940-1990 X-ray Shoe Fitting Machine: 1948.
Hempelmann, L.H. Potential Dangers in the
Uncontrolled Use of Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscopes. :335-336. New
Lowe, J.J. Method and Means for Visually
Determining the Fit of Footwear.
Moeller, D.W. A Historical Note – The Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope. HPS Newsletter. June 1996:6-8.
Valaer, P. Letter to Dr. Lemay. Dec. 28 1978.
Williams, C.R. Radiation Exposures from the Use of
Shoe-fitting Fluoroscopes. New
If you have any corrections that you would like to make to the information presented here, the grammar, spelling, or anything else, please contact Paul Frame at Paul.Frame@orau.org
Copyright 1999, Oak Ridge Associated Universities