The artifact of the month for January and February was made possible by the advances of 19th century science, but it still wasn’t a good idea. It is a shoe fluoroscope, or shoe-fitting X-ray machine. Following the discovery of X-radiation by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895, the scientific community produced numerous publications on the subject while others devised new uses for this new phenomenon. One of those applications was a machine that supposedly aided retailers in the fitting of shoes for their customers beginning in 1920. By the early 1950s, the safety of such machines was in question, and by the end of the decade, the industry was dead in the United States.
Made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, our Adrian Special model was used in Caldwell’s shoe store in Sioux Falls where the donor’s uncle worked. The top of the polished wood cabinet has three viewing ports, one for the store employee and two for customers. At the bottom of the unit are slots for the customer’s feet where, clad in the new foot gear, the X-ray exposure allowed a look inside the shoes or boots to determine if they fit “properly.” Without a supply of electricity to operate it, however, this shoe fluoroscope is a perfectly safe piece to have in the Museums’ collections!