Have you ever seen the bones in your toes wriggling inside your shoes? If you have, it was probably because your local shoe store had an X-Ray Shoe Fitter manufactured in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, like the Internet, personal computers, antibiotics, canned foods, microwave ovens and hundreds of other things we use today, owe their original development to military research projects.
During World War I, the army studied the fit of boots to improve soldiers’ health, partly with the use of the newly discovered X-Rays that let researchers see soldiers’ feet through their boots. After the war, inventors designed and patented machines that could be used in shoe stores. By the late 1920’s X-Ray Shoe Fitter, Inc. was the leading manufacturer of fluoroscopes for shoe stores in the United States.
By the late 1940’s medical research began documenting the dangers of using shoe X-Ray machines, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin became one of the first cities in the United States to regulate the location and use of the machines. By 1960, very few shoe X-ray machines were still in use, not simply because they were dangerous but because customers began thinking of them as sales gimmicks rather than useful tools.
However, kids like me found them fascinating. My friends and I would go into the shoe store on Main Street after school and ask to check the fit of our shoes. Most of the time, however, the owner would tell us that it was a machine for trying on new shoes. I don’t know if he was trying to protect our health or to keep us from scuffing the oak cabinet that housed the magical machine.
I still have a vague memory of the first time I saw my feet in the X-Ray machine. It was at night, so it must have been a Friday. Stores were open late on Friday nights in Hayward when I was growing up, and families did a lot of shopping then. After a quick supper, we would drive into town where my sisters and I got a nickel or dime to spend while Mom and Dad bought groceries and anything else needed.
With the shopping done, Dad would often pick up a six-pack of beer and we would drive to Pete and Hilda’s, on the north side of Hayward. If a suitable movie was playing, their daughter Maureen, my sisters and I would each be given money for a movie ticket and a box of candy or bag of popcorn. Mom and Dad would play canasta and drink the beer, two cans for the men and one for the ladies. It made for a wonderful evening.
Every two or three weeks, Pete, Hilda and Maureen would visit us in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon, bringing their six-pack of beer and sending us kids outside to play while they broke out the canasta cards. We played games, swung on the swing, took turns on our homemade teeter-totter or walked to the river to watch the trout rising and in general had pretty good times.
We shared dinners too, and one thing Hilda could make was a good stew with dumplings. I always liked Mom’s dumplings, and Jerri’s dumplings are great too. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember a dumpling that I didn’t like.
Mom liked Hilda’s dumplings so much that she copied the recipe and noted that they were good on the card in her recipe box. They’re delicious, but then again, what dumpling isn’t?
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Break the egg into a standard measuring cup and beat lightly. Fill the cup with milk and add the milk and egg to the dry ingredients. Beat just until mixed and let rise for five minutes.
Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls on top of beef or chicken boiling briskly in the broth. Leave the meat in the pot. Cover and boil for twenty minutes.
NOTES: Hilda noted that these dumplings are just as good warmed over in the broth the next day.