"Mommy, I love my new shoes, but how come I glow in the dark now?" - Some kid in the 1940s, maybe.

There's a popular phrase that says, "If I only knew then what I know now." It essentially means the chances we would have agreed to participate in a particular activity, experiment, relationship, or whatever would have been far less likely if we knew what the end result would be. It's the first thing that came to my mind when I recently learned that department and shoe stores once used small x-ray machines on children to make sure their new shoes fit properly.

Doctors with x-rays
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Chances are, at some point in your life, you've had to get an x-ray for one reason or another. Maybe you broke a bone or thought you broke a bone and other than cutting you open and taking a look around, it was the best way for the doctor to see what was going on inside you in order to figure out a treatment plan. Sometimes they're used as a preventative maintenance measure. Many dentists will take x-rays of your mouth on an annual basis to see the roots of your teeth below the gum line and make sure there are no issues hiding in there.

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Whatever the reason, being prepped to have an x-ray taken is often the same procedure. The x-ray technician covers part of you in a lead-lined blanket, then they hide behind a wall or go into a completely different room while the machine does its thing. Why? Because x-rays use radiation to work. And, needless to say, absorbing radiation isn't good.

If they only knew then what we know now.

Fluoroscopes Once Used to X-Ray Feet for Proper Shoe Fit

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Canva
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The X-Ray was discovered in 1895 by a German engineer and physicist named Wilhelm Röntgen. Roughly 20 years later, the U.S. military used the technology to make sure soldiers' boots fit properly during World War I. But, according to the engineering magazine, IEEE Spectrum, one visionary doctor saw an opportunity to apply the technology to the general public (and I assume a few dollar signs too).

Jacob J. Lowe, a doctor in Boston, used fluoroscopy to examine the feet of wounded soldiers without removing their boots. When the war ended, Lowe adapted the technology for shoe shops, and he filed for a U.S. patent in 1919, although it wasn’t granted until 1927. He named his device the Foot-O-Scope.

The Foot-O-Scope was soon being used at department stores across the country, including the Sears, Roebuck, & Company store in downtown Evansville which was located on the corner of 4th and Sycamore Streets.

Willard Library Archives
Willard Library Archives
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The problem, of course, was that it literally was blasting customers, particularly children who the machines were used on most often, with radiation with little-to-no protection. And we're not talking a little radiation. As the video below explains, the amount of radiation being absorbed by customers and salespeople was far, far more than what should have been. Let's just say it's pretty amazing they all didn't turn into human light bulbs.

If they only knew then what we know now.

[Sources: Nobel Prize.org / IEEE Spectrum / Michael J. Koleszar via the I Grew Up in Evansville, Indiana Facebook Group]

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