Bizarre Medicine: X-Ray shoe scanner

Curator Sophie Goggins tells us about the odd x-ray machine to measure your shoes.
23 April 2019

Interview with 

Sophie Goggins, National Museums Scotland


Pedoscope used to x-ray feet and shoe fit


How dangerous can a trip to your local shoe shop be? Sophie Goggins, Curator of Biomedical Science at National Museums Scotland, takes Chris Smith through the machine that used X-rays scans to measure your shoes. 

Sophie - I'd like to volunteer the pedoscope. Has anyone heard of a pedoscope before?

Chris - One or two people nodding knowingly.

Sophie - One or two people nodding. A pedoscope is also known as an X-ray fluoroscope. So they were found in shoe shops across the U.S.. the U.K.. South Africa. If you're of a certain age they were in shops from around the late 1920s to 1970s and they offered people in shoe shops trying on your shoes a live X-ray view of your toes inside your shoes to see if they fit properly.

Chris - Could you see the bones and stuff in your foot?

Sophie - Yes. What would happen is it's about four feet tall. It's clad in wood and you would step up onto a little ledge and put your feet in and you would then look down a gaze hole at the top and the operator would look down another one on the side and your mum or dad or whoever’s with you would look down one on the other side and you all look down and they'd press the big button and you get a live X-ray of your toes in your shoes. Apparently you could also see the stitching around your shoes and you're meant to wiggle your toes to see if there is enough room.

Chris - Is this not sort of, the cynic in me saying, this is some kind of dodgy sales ploy because they'll sell more shoes because you'll come back three weeks later for an extra pair of shoes for the two new legs you've grown because of the x ray exposure.

Sophie - Yes I think my favorite one is, I'm actually gonna get the year, so it was 1957 before the UK actually said that you shouldn't do this more than 12 times a year.

Chris - That's a lot of pairs of shoes isn't it.

Sophie - Yes. Obviously some people who are very into their shoes, but I think the greater concern was of the people that were operating these machines in shoe shops day in and day out.

Chris - Because they were getting a reasonable dose of X-rays then weren’t they. When did we finally get these things removed from shops?

Sophie - So they were never actually banned in the UK. They were banned in the US in 1953. But as I said it wasn't till 1957 that the UK actually put out a warning about them. And then they were found in shoe shops up through the 1970s.

Chris - I think I even remember, because I am of a sufficient vintage to have had probably my early pairs of shoes, I think I remember this. So you've got one in your museum - does it work? Have you had to go with it?

Sophie - I think this is another good example of don't try this at home.

Chris - We did ask you to bring it in but you said it's rather large because it's a huge great thing isn't it. You said it's four feet but you weren't referring to feet on your leg. It's a tall thing.

Sophie - No it's quite a tall machine. It was made in St Albans down in England and they're quite pretty, actually, to look at. So it's on the top floor of our museum if you want to go have a nosy. But it’s clad in wood, it looks very very nice. I mean obviously made a shoe shop experience quite an important exciting one for even more so for small children.


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