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The Adrian X-ray Shoe Fitting Machine

April 20, 2017

During the 1940s, people were concerned about their feet. Mothers, fathers – even the U.S. Army. As a result, the guardian of modern foot care was born – the “Adrian X-ray Shoe Fitting Machine.”

A Star is Born

Although there are a number of conflicting stories about its origin, the first x-ray shoe fitting machine has generally been attributed to Dr. Jacob Lowe, a Boston physician who was looking for a fast and efficient way to analyze soldiers’ feet during World War I. Dr. Lowe was concerned with the number of poorly fitting boots worn by military recruits and was interested in a way to cut down on their foot-related injuries.  In addition to providing the good doctor with a superior view of the foot, the x-ray shoe fitting machine allowed Dr. Lowe to speed up production by not requiring soldiers to remove their boots.

The x-ray shoe fitting machine was a simple design. A fluoroscope was mounted on the base of a wooden platform and sent x-rays upward toward a florescent screen. The client would place their foot between the two and the image would be directed up to a reflector, where three viewing scopes displayed the foot’s image to the customer. The entire area was sealed within a lead-shielded area for protection of the client. Unlike x-rays that are captured on film, the machine displayed a real time image of the client’s foot – shoes and all.

After the war, Dr. Lowe starting making the rounds to retail shoe stores and eventually sold the patent to the Adrian Company of Milwaukee in 1924. About the same time, a similar patent was granted in Great Britain for the “Pedoscope”- although the Pedoscope Company claimed that their instrument had already been in use for more than 5 years.

Better Shoe Fitting through Science

The public went wild over the new way to be “scientifically” fitted for shoes. Concerned mothers were grateful that someone had finally come up with a method for accurately fitting their children’s feet in shoes. The manufacturer claimed that by being able to view the foot inside their shoes, their shoes would last longer and promote the child’s foot health and comfort. By the mid 1940s, more than 10,000 Adrian x-ray shoe fitting machines had been installed all over the country.

As the Adrian machines gained in popularity, so did the government’s concern over their safety. When the machines were first introduced, little was known about continued exposure to radiation. As a result, children and adults were repeatedly exposed to x-ray radiation without concern over its ill effects. The average shoe salesman might expose himself to 20 to 30 doses in a single shift.  In 1946, the American Standards Association defined a “safe and tolerable dosage” of radiation and began regulating how the x-ray machines were to be used. Ultimately, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) issued uniform guidance standards.

The Adrian Company assured parents that the new machines were safe and could “just as easily be operated by ‘old timers’ with more than 20 years of shoe fitting experience as ‘Saturday extras’ who only had their jobs for a few weeks.” By viewing x-ray images of their children’s feet, concerned parents were comforted by the opportunity to participate in the shoe-fitting process as they gazed down into one of the three image-viewing scopes.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

By the early 1950s, a number of medical societies like the American College of Surgeons, the New York Academy of Medicine and the American College of Radiology became concerned that non-medical personnel were operating the fluoroscopes and issued warnings that they should only be operated by licensed physiotherapists. A number of states began enforcing even stricter rules, requiring that they only be used by licensed physicians – not likely to be found in the average shoe store. In 1957, Pennsylvania became the first state to ban the use of the shoe-fitting fluoroscopes. It didn’t take long for the rest of the country to jump on the bandwagon.

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