When X-rays were given in shoe stores

History contains many examples of medical functions performed by frighteningly unqualified people. Barbers once were also dentists. Whoever was the oldest lady in the village was also a midwife. And x-rays were shot through children's feet - by shoe store attendants.

It's no secret that people of the 1930s and 1940s had an unhealthy fascination with radiation. People put radium in health tonics, food, and toothpaste. They boiled themselves under UV lamps. They used radiation to mutate garden vegetables. So when they found a way to check the fits of a shoe, and all it took was shooting an x-ray through a child's foot, naturally they jumped on it.


The shoe fitting fluoroscope had a little box on the bottom, to put the tips of one's feet through, and three different viewing windows. Once the feet were put through, the person was pretty much standing on an x-ray tube, and rays were shot upwards so that a fluorescent image of the feet was visible through each of the little viewing windows. The child, parent, and the shoe store attendant all looked through one of the windows. If the toes were pushed up against the tip of the shoe, it was too tight. If the shoe had a bit of room in the toe, it was perfect. The only safety shielding on the fluoroscope was a tiny layer of aluminum. Brochures recommended that the stores place the fluoroscope in the middle of the store, where anyone could get at it.

The fluoroscope was originally invented for legitimate medical purposes. Injured soldiers during World War I, who needed special fits in their boots, could be accommodated more quickly if the person fitting them could see what was happening under the leather of the shoes. It was only after the war that things got dangerous and unnecessary. Although the brochures that accompanied the machine told shoe store employees to refer any person with medical problems to a doctor instead of trying to help them in the store, there was still the matter of shoving kids' feet into x-ray machines every time they grew, and of course the attendants would have had far more exposure than was healthy for anyone. It wasn't until the 1950s that the machines finally left the stores.


Top Image: Orau; Second Image: RSNA


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