Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shopping - Hazardous To Your Health

This article will prove conclusively that at one time
shopping was hazardous to your health!

When I was young my family lived way out in the country. As children we came to town to go to school, but the town was small and had no stores. To shop, we had to travel one town over and the store choices there were very limited.

Just about now, at the start of every school year, we went into town to buy a new pair of shoes. The shoe store was a Buster Brown dealer in the basement of the building that housed the town's only drug store. Yes, in the old days they were called drug stores rather than pharmacies.

If we behaved ourselves in the shoe store my parents would treat us to a cherry coke and hamburger at the drug store's soda fountain. I loved the drug store. They sold jewelry, gold compacts, and perfume. I still remember the wonderful smells in the back of the store, in the cosmetics department, just past the greasy hamburgers at the soda fountain. Yes, I even miss the greasy hamburgers.

As you will see, behaving in the shoe store was extremely difficult for any child. The store prided itself on being a very modern shoe store catering to children. There was very little selection, so deciding on a pair of shoes didn't command a great deal of time, but making sure the shoes fit properly did. This is where the behavior problem surfaces. The store had what could be called an attractive nuisance, known today as a health hazard.

A modern device called a Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope was installed in the store to insure that every child's shoes fit properly. All you had to do was lift your children onto the machine wearing their new shoes, stick their feet inside the opening and turn on the x-ray. Ill fitting shoes was obviously a higher health risk than prolonged exposure to x-rays.

There were three ports for viewing the x-ray. One for the child, one for the mother, and one for the sales person. You could see the bones in your feet and the outline of your shoes in a very eerie green color. You could even watch your toes wiggle.

While mother was busy with the twins my sister and I would take turns x-raying our feet. Then one of us would sit on the machine and stick our hands in the opening so the other could watch our fingers move. You could even slide your little handbag in the opening, climb up, and x-ray its contents. What a cool machine.

What a cool machine? It was soon discovered that the hazards from radiation weren’t worth the proper fit of children's shoes:

The primary component of a shoe-fitting x-ray unit was the fluoroscope which consisted essentially of an x-ray tube mounted near the floor and wholly or partially enclosed in a shielded box and a fluorescent screen. The x-rays penetrated the shoes and feet and then struck the fluorescent light. This resulted in an image of the feet within the shoes. The fluorescent image was reflected to three viewing ports at the top of the cabinet, where the customer, the salesperson, and a third person (your mother?) could view the image at the same time.

The radiation hazards associated with shoe fitting x-ray units were recognized as early as 1950. The machines were often out of adjustment and were constructed so radiation leaked into the surrounding area.

Fortunately we only purchased shoes once or twice a year. Fortunately the danger of x-rays to the human body became publicized and the machines were removed.

It appears the x-rays had no effect on me or my sister. Neither of us glows in the dark. Probably due to the ingestion of greasy hamburgers and cherry cokes immediately after exposure.

The image of the shoe-fitting fluoroscope courtesy of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities Museum.

Online sources for shoe-fitting fluoroscopy:

-- Baring the Sole: The Rise and Fall of the Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope 2000 by Jacalyn Duffin and Charles Hayter, Isis 2000;91(2):260-282.
-- Online exhibit on shoe-fitting fluoroscopy at the ORAU Museum, introduction and illustrations.
-- When the solution is the problem: a brief history of the shoe fluoroscope. Nedd CA 2nd. AJR 1992;158:1270.



Blogger Lori Thornton said...

I'm happy to say that I don't remember that machine!

August 14, 2008 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Who knew that shoe shopping - something enjoyed by so many women - could be hazardous to your health?? So glad this isn't the case anymore!!

Little Bytes of Life

August 14, 2008 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger Janet Iles said...

I remember the machine, but I didn't know what it was called. The shoe store where we bought our shoes had one. I don't remember when they stopped using it, but it helped us get good fitting shoes.

August 14, 2008 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Yes Lori, be glad, be very glad.


August 14, 2008 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


My husband would love it if the shoe department in Nordstrom's became radioactive.


August 14, 2008 at 5:19 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Did they let you play with the machine. Our shoe store only had one clerk, the owner.

While my Mother had him busy with the twins my sister and I just took over.


August 14, 2008 at 5:20 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I remember these machines well. And Buster Brown: "I'm Buster Brown. I live in a shoe. This is my dog Tag. He lives in there too." The shoes I remember best were the red Mary Janes with a little patter of holes over the toes which we got for summer wear. No sandles in my family--proper shoes for growing feet only! Thanks for reminding us of a bit of childhood. What will our grandchildren remember about their trips to the shoe store?

August 15, 2008 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

That would have been very cool as a child but we didn't have one at our store. To insure a proper fit the salesman first measured my feet six different ways and then poked and pinched my feet and then encouraged my mother to do the same. My shoes often had to be special ordered so we'd have to go back so I could be pinched some more.

August 17, 2008 at 6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My grandfather, my father, my Mom, my uncle owned 5 stores (Warren, Niles, Youngstown, Ashtabula, Ohio & Erie Pa.) that sold "Buster Brown" Shoes. I'm 59. I recall people-kids using those machines over & over & over, even when told to stop. My uncle died of cancer in his 50's. My sister has cancer, my Mom had cancer, my father died of Alzheimers & Prostrate cancer. My Mom died of Alzheimers. Connected? I believe-yes.

June 17, 2013 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Connected? I don't believe in coincidence! -fM

June 17, 2013 at 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too played with the machines in the 50's. My dad had a bussiness near the Buster Brown shoe store and my sister and I would walk to his store after school each day. We often went in the store to check our shoes, hoping that our feet had grown enough to justify getting new shoes. For years I have had pain the the tops of my feet. Two times in the last year I have had broken bones in the second, third and forth metatarsal bones of my feet, stress fractures according to my podiatrist. I am convinced that the borken bones are related to the time spent playing with the machines.

October 23, 2013 at 8:17 PM  

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