Brannock Device Measures Feet For Shoes: American Ingenuity Marches On...
Ever meet anyone who says they're a
voracious reader, and then you find out that they read only junky
romance novels & tattoo magazines, but don't remember any of it
anyway? I've always been a voracious reader, with the gift/curse that
I seem to remember a lot of what I've seen. This doesn't just apply
only to bookish pursuits... I remember ephemera like adverts on
buildings, oddball labels, and other literary detritus. That's why
for as long as I can remember I've known that the oddly-shaped metal
thing used to measure feet is labeled a “Brannock Device”.
If you've ever bought shoes you know what a Brannock Device is, though you may not have ever thought of it as having a name. Charles Brannock invented the foot measuring device around 1925 (he built the prototype with an erector set) as an answer to the other unreliable gadgets of the day. His shoe store became known for offering the best fitting shoes, and demand for his device grew. Eventually he started a company in New York to manufacture his namesake device. The company continues to operate today in a factory not far from the original site, and they still sell the same Brannock that they always have.
In a story that typifies the mythic
“American dream”, an individual saw a need for an invention,
later realizing great success with it. In fact, there was never a
shoe size standard among footwear manufacturers before Brannock came
along. The part of the story that's hard to believe these days is
that the dream continues in the same way that it always has. The sturdy aluminum device is still built to last (retailers replace their
Brannocks every 15 years or so as the numbers wear out), the
manufacturer resisting temptation to maximize profits by offering a
shoddier product. Brannock devices are still manufactured in the USA,
and have changed surprisingly little in the last 80 years or so.
In this world of multi-national conglomerates and faceless giga-corporations, it's good to remind ourselves that there are still those areas of endeavor where a single person with a good idea can fill a niche and prosper. It's enheartening to know that there are still at least a few companies that live on by producing a high quality product using local labor.