Today's interesting footnote to history
February 12, 2015 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Via the Morning News, today I ran across (ahem) this brief but enlightening history of the Brannock device, the two-pound steel instrument invented to provide a universal and precise way of measuring shoe size (previously on MeFi).

Wikipedia offers a schematic of the instantly-recognizable invention that put many of us into more comfortable footwear, especially as kids. However, its popularity stemmed significantly from its widespread (heh) use as a way to fit soldiers for boots during World War II (note that the military used a special two-footed version of the device in order to measure both of a soldier's feet at the same time). These days, the Brannock device's popularity has been narrowed (cough) by knockoffs, and by fewer shoe sellers offering personalized fitting services. If you would like your very own device to ensure a better fit for yourself, you can buy one in a wide (ha ha) array of colors and styles online.
posted by Smells of Detroit (20 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Neat. This is a classic example of a thing everyone knows exists but few people know the name or history. Thanks.

Still, it always comes down to "No, these are a bit tight. Can I try them in 10 1/2?"
posted by bondcliff at 8:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't see the point of the two-footed version. Did they intend to give out different shoe sizes if you had different size feet?

Anyway, this is all obsolete now, and there is a revolution in shoes just waiting to happen. I went to an orthopedist last week they use foam impression boxes to measure your feet. There are variations on this process but they're mostly intended to make orthotics and custom insoles. But this way of measuring feet really takes shoe sizing from 2D to 3D.

There was a time when shoes were made on lasts and you could have custom lasts that were carved to the exact size of your foot. These molds may not quite be as good as custom lasts, but it could be a revolution in shoe manufacture. I really don't need a 13EEE, I need more like a 12.75 x 2.5E
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:05 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't see the point of the two-footed version. Did they intend to give out different shoe sizes if you had different size feet?

I assume you'd issue boots at the larger size. The point of the two-footed version would have been to measure both feet quickly.
posted by zamboni at 9:12 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Did they intend to give out different shoe sizes if you had different size feet?

I don't think they'd do two radically different sizes (that sounds like the type of physical trait that would get you bounced, I'd suspect), but given that many people's feet are slightly different sizes, it's a good idea to check both so that you end up with, say, one foot too loose than one foot painfully tight.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:12 AM on February 12, 2015


charlie don't surf: "I don't see the point of the two-footed version. Did they intend to give out different shoe sizes if you had different size feet?"

The military is probably the one outfit that could make that financially viable - you're giving out so many shoes that for everyone that has a 10 left and an 11 right, you can find an 11 left/10 right to make up for it.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's more common than you would think for people to have two different-sized feet. Nordstrom will measure both your feet and sell you two different-sized shoes if you ask.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:19 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


That Bannock device is great, and does give a pretty good measurement of feet. But that's no what manufacturers actually make. Most women's shoes come in narrow and narrow but claiming to be medium. Virtually no one makes wide shoes. Makes the info relatively useless. The manufacturers that do are worth the money.

Also, neat article.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


There was a time when shoes were made on lasts and you could have custom lasts that were carved to the exact size of your foot.

It can still be done. My wife has a 30 year old pair of custom Limmers that are still going strong.
posted by bondcliff at 9:24 AM on February 12, 2015


Two guys on my hall first year at college discovered they had the exact opposite two sized feet and used to buy sneakers together and swap a left for a a right with each other.

As for the Brammock device, I remember well going to Thom McCann and getting my feet measured for my new pair of Keds sneakers and Buster Brown (and his dog Tide!) shoes.
posted by 724A at 9:25 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm waiting for the trivia game where I take it all home with Brannock Device and Phoropter.
posted by lagomorphius at 9:43 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's more common than you would think for people to have two different-sized feet. Nordstrom will measure both your feet and sell you two different-sized shoes if you ask.

Really? My sister will want to hear about this. She had hammertoe and as a child, she had surgery to correct one, then she decided it was so painful she refused to have the other one done. Now she has two very different size feet. She says that when she buys shoes, she has to decide whether she wants one shoe too small, or one shoe too large.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:49 AM on February 12, 2015


There's something compelling about the idea of bespoke clothing--this Kickstarter from late last year (to pick an example) looked really cool.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:09 AM on February 12, 2015


Brannock negotiated the sale of his company to an Italian Salvatore Leonardi shortly before his death on the condition that production stayed in Syracuse and that the devices are still made out of steel to the same high quality standard.

Having lived in the rust belt I believe that people who do things like this should be sainted.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:13 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Neat little article, and as mentioned above, good pub trivia knowledge. However, I have to say that my childhood aversion to shoe shopping has made me reflexively hate these things. I imagine the smell of shoe freshener spray, and a feeling of inescapable boredom.
posted by codacorolla at 10:16 AM on February 12, 2015


Today's interesting footnote to history

I saw what you did there.
posted by notreally at 11:23 AM on February 12, 2015


724A: "I remember well going to Thom McCann and getting my feet measured for my new pair of Keds sneakers and Buster Brown (and his dog Tide!) shoes."

Tige.

Scary looking pair if you ask me.
posted by Splunge at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The styling on them is fantastic. The bird-beak shape on the indicator for the arch length, the black enamel on metal — that wouldn't happen now. Yeah, it probably makes them four times as expensive as a plastic device that could do the same job just as well, but with less pleasure.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:29 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do love the Brannock Device, but it doesn't really have any way that I know of to measure feet that are part-narrower and part-wider accurately.

Though pretty much nobody's selling shoes with combination lasts that would make that information useful anyway, so it doesn't really matter.
posted by asperity at 1:31 PM on February 12, 2015


If I remember correctly, Paul Lukas, who runs the excellent athletic aesthetics blog, Uni-Watch, has a Brannock Device tattoo.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:37 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


As previously noted on the blue. Lukas is a big fan of the Brannock. Read his stuff--the original zine editions if you can. I wasn't a fan of the editing done for the book.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:49 PM on February 12, 2015


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