Everyone has stepped in it, but few know what it is called.
It is that metal thing that a salesman measures your foot with at the shoe store. It is named the Brannock Device.
The Brannock Device was invented by a college kid, patented in 1927, and no one has come up with anything better to replace it. Shoe industry veterans estimate it is right about 95% of the time.
The inventor, Charles Brannock, was born in Syracuse, New York in 1903 and grew up in his family�s shoe store. The store was located in downtown Syracuse, had different floors for different type shoes and a merry-go-round to entertain the kids. As a teenager, Charles became obsessed with finding a better way to measure feet than the crude ruler-like block of wood that was used by most shoe stores.
When Charles went to college across town at Syracuse University, he would often jump out of bed in the middle of the night with a sudden inspiration and start working on the designs for his foot measuring device. His roommate would complain about being awakened and Charles would tell him to just roll over. He believed, like Thomas Edison, that any idea left in the night would vanish by morning.
Charles built the prototype for the Brannock Device with pieces from an Erector Set.
He first used his invention in the family store. No store in Syracuse could measure a foot and fit a shoe for it so perfectly and business boomed.
Charles operated the Brannock Device company out of the shoe store until the early 1940s when demand for his device grew too big. He moved the company to a small machine shop nearby. He would walk back and forth between the machine shop and the shoe store overseeing both businesses.
During World War II, the Army hired him to fit the boots and shoes for enlisted men.
It was the only thing Charles Brannock ever invented. His company has sold and produced over 1 million Brannock Devices. They have been shipped around the world and every one of them was built at his factory in Syracuse.
A Brannock Device costs about $60 each and lasts with heavy use for about 15 years. They are usually only replaced after the numbers wear off. Shoe industry veterans say that the only way you could break one is to �run over it with a truck�.
It has a chrome surface and sleek curves. There are two knobs for adjusting the fit cups at both ends for the curve of the heel. Two sliding bars with calibrated markings on the black bottom plate.
Industrial designers call it a perfect example of functional elegance. It does exactly what it was designed to do and looks good hanging on the wall.
The Brannock Device comes with the standard black plate, but is also available in green, purple and red.
Charles Brannock closed the shoe store in 1981 after deciding that downtown shopping was dead. The Hotel Syracuse was looking to expand and bought the building.
Charles Brannock continued making his invention and went to the office everyday until six months before his death in 1992 at the age of 89. He was proud of his invention and refused to cheapen it. He could have increased production by making them out of plastic. They would have crumbled after a short time. It was not in his character to not build them to last.
Charles Brannock spent his whole life in Syracuse. He loved small business and he loved working downtown. He shunned publicity and few people outside of Syracuse knew about him. He was described as a �gentleman� and treated his employees and everyone he met with the same quiet courtesy.
He never married, although friends say he had opportunities, but had plenty of close friends. He was an avid downhill skier, which he continued to do into his late 70�s, and he was a devoted fan of Syracuse University sports.
Charles Brannock contributed $1000 a year to a lacrosse scholarship to Syracuse in honor of his college roommate, Roy Simmons, that he kept awake nights while he designed the Brannock Device. Roy was the Syracuse lacrosse coach for many years.
Charles Brannock's friends claimed that his obituaries were wrong to state that he had no survivors. He had thousands of them and they will live forever or at least until their numbers wear off.