It’s All Trew

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X-ray Fluoroscope took the guesswork out of shoe fitting

Thanks to Susan Oldham of Lefors, Texas, the
mystery of the “X-ray shoe-fitting machine” has now been solved.
Many readers recalled shoe-buying expeditions of the past where the
customer placed his feet into a machine, which showed an X-ray of
the feet inside the new shoes. This sounded like a pretty far-out
tale to me, but the story is true and here are the facts.

The Shoe-Fitting-Fluoroscope was a common fixture in better shoe
stores from 1930 to 1950. The wooden fixture contained a step near
the bottom with a hole in which the customer inserted his or her
foot inside the prospective new shoe. Three viewing ports were
located on the top for the customer, the customer’s companion (or
mother) and the salesman to see how the shoes fit. A push-button
turned on the machine for 20-second intervals. Inside, the shadowy
outline of the bones and shape of the foot could be seen inside the
outline of the shoes, theoretically providing a better fit for the

History provides varied accounts of the device’s origin. It
seems to date to World War I, when it was first used to speed
diagnosis of foot injuries and shoe-fit problems experienced by
soldiers. After the war, in about 1920, the device’s design and
appearance were improved and it started appearing in shoe stores. A
patent was granted in 1927, assigned to the Adrian Co., of
Milwaukee. In about 1946, the safety of exposure to X-rays began to
be questioned, and regulations were implemented governing use of
that technology. By 1957, many states banned the use of such
equipment. Today shoe-fitting machines are rarely seen outside of
museum collections.

The shoe-fitting machine is one early-day experience I did
not have. When any member of my family needed shoes, my
mother split a brown paper grocery sack and placed it on the floor.
We stood in bare feet while she traced the outline of our feet,
allowing plenty of “room to grow.” Then she measured the distance
around the arches and placed that measurement on a line drawn
through the outline on the paper. We chose a style and mailed the
order to Montgomery Ward & Co. or Sears & Roebuck. With fit
and quality guaranteed or your money back, we couldn’t go

Most cowboys ordered their boots the same way. We had a
shoe/boot stretcher at home and seldom did a week pass without some
neighbor coming by to borrow the stretcher to help make a new boot
or shoe fit more comfortably. Foot injuries, corns, bunions and
swelling were all tended to by making a slit in the boot’s leather,
delivering relief.

My favorite pair of boots came when I was about age 5, when
Santa Claus brought me a cowboy design complete with copper toes
and heel guards. I told everyone “These new boots will run a lot
faster than my old boots.” Dad always teased mother when she bought
new shoes. He would tell everyone “She tried on size 7, but size 8
felt so good she bought size 9.”

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and
supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him
at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail:

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