Fascinating Misuse of Science: Fluoroscopes

It seems that every generation has its stories of technology and science misused for corporate interest in what probably seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time. My parents, for example, grew up in the late 1940s and 50s, and fondly remember going down to the local shoe store and being able to have the salesman stand them in front of a large wooden device that would use x-rays to visibly ensure a proper fit of their new shoes.

FluoroscopeAccording to orau.org, shoe-fitting fluoroscopes came onto the scene sometime around 1924 with the first unit built by by Milwaukee resident Clarence Karrer, who’s father sold medical equipment that included x-ray devices.

Safety wasn’t always the first concern with these devices. According to the Radiological Society of North America, their main concern during the very early years of use was that the use of the technology as a shoe-fitting device “lowered the dignity of the profession of radiology.”

As time progressed, however, safety concerns grew. Most machines were cheaply made, often out of alignment, and provided only a thin aluminum shield between the x-ray tube and your feet. By the 1950s, many medical organizations warned about the devices and demanded that only trained and licensed professionals be allowed to operate them and by the 1960s most states had moved to ban the devices altogether.

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