What's the Strangest Way to Fit a Shoe?

It's hard to believe now, but in the first half of the 20th century, children loved going to the shoe store. No, they weren't pumped about the latest Pumas or crazy for Crocs; instead, they wanted to see the bones in their toes. Thanks to a machine known as a fluoroscope, shoe salespeople around the world could offer their customers an inside look at their feet -- literally.

Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes allowed customers to see an X-ray view of their feet, allegedly to help them find better-fitting shoes.
Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes allowed customers to see an X-ray view of their feet, allegedly to help them find better-fitting shoes.

Also known as Pedoscopes or Foot-o-scopes, shoe-fitting fluoroscopes promised a better fit by giving an X-ray view of the entire foot's structure and how much room was available in a certain pair of shoes. By the 1950s, about 10,000 shoe-fitting fluoroscopes were in use in shoe stores across America.

The truth, of course, was that the machine was more gimmick than guide. "Seeing the greenish yellow image of your bones was great fun," health physicist Paul Frame said. Of course, as we came to understand more about the dangers of radiation, the device was doomed. By the late 1950s, states began banning the fluoroscope, and by the mid-1960s, fluoroscopes could be found only in antique markets and some museums.

If the truth fits:

  • High heels came about as a way for horse riders to stay in their stirrups; as horse ownership meant wealth, high heels became a symbol of the well-to-do.

  • On average, American women own 19 pairs of shoes, although only four are worn on a regular basis; 15 percent of women own 30 pairs or more.

  • One pair of the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" sold at a 2000 auction for $660,000 USD.

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