OBJECT HISTORY: X-Ray Shoe Fitting Machine

The “Simplex” fluoroscope machine featured three viewing stations. The top image displays the side of the machine where the child would stand and insert his or her feet to be x-rayed.In the late 1940s, Noren’s Shoes of Sturgeon Bay attracted customers with the slogan “Shoes of Quality, X-Ray Fitted.” Like many other shoe stores at the time, Noren’s used an X-ray machine, or fluoroscope, to assure customers of a perfectly fitted shoe. While improvements in fit were dubious, fluoroscopes did succeed in “scientifically” marketing shoes for more than a quarter century.

Fluoroscopes consist of an X-ray generating tube and a fluorescent screen. In use, the patient stands between the two, and an image of the patient’s body appears on the screen. Unlike still X-ray images made on photographic film, fluoroscopes allow doctors to observe a moving body in real time. Shoe fitting fluoroscopes consisted of a lead-shielded X-ray tube in the base of a metal or wooden cabinet. The customer placed his or her feet in a slot near the bottom of the machine, and when activated by the salesperson, the projected X-rays produced an image of the feet within the shoes. Three metal viewing scopes topped the cabinet: one each for the customer (often a child), the salesperson and presumably a parent. Fortunately, the X-rays did not continue directly through to the viewers’ eyes, but were reflected by mirrors to the viewing ports. With repeated use of the fluoroscope with different pairs of shoes, an enterprising clerk could entice customers to find the perfect fit.

The fluoroscope featured here was donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society by an antiques dealer in 1992. He had purchased the machine in the Sturgeon Bay area but was unsure of where it had been used. While the Society has found that Noren’s Shoes in Sturgeon Bay advertised X-ray fitting for its shoes, it has not yet confirmed that this machine was used in that store.

Blue sign that reads "We feature X-Ray" that was displayed in shoe stores
This sign was originally used in Noren’s Shoes in Sturgeon Bay The store promoted X-rays as a special service for its customers. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1994.2.1
View from above the X-Ray Shoe Fitting Machine shows three viewing stations
This image shows the top of the machine from the side where the child’s mother and the shoe salesman would view the resulting X-ray image. The child could view the image through the third viewing station. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1992.109

This story was edited and adapted from Dave Driscoll‘s original Curators’ Favorites article (September 2006). 


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This object is part of the Curators’ Favorites Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Explore the whole collection here!


RELATED STORIES

The Rise and Fall of Shoe Fitting Fluoroscopes

 

 


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sturgeon Bay City Directory, 1948.

Duffin, Jacalyn and Charles R.R. Hayter. “Baring the Sole: The Rise and Fall of the Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope,” Isis June 2000, 91(2):260-82.

“Shoe Fitting Fluoroscope” online content from Oak Ridge Associated Universities.