Cast Iron Shoes

Dating from the 18th century, these metal shoes were made for and worn by a chemist. The donor is purported to have purchased these from a direct descendant of the famous French chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, and the shoes were supposedly worn by Lavoisier. However, there is no way to verify this claim, so we value these shoes for what they can tell us about early French scientific and cultural history.
They are made of cast iron; each shoe weighs over 1-1/2 lbs! The shoes slip on. There are rivets all around the top of the heels, sides, and insteps. On one shoe, some remnants of leather remain under the rivets. Whether this leather was strictly decorative or served some practical purpose is unknown.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
18th century
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
leather (overall material)
shoe 2: 7.7 cm x 28.6 cm x 10.8 cm; 3 1/16 in x 11 1/4 in x 4 1/4 in
shoe 1: 7.7 cm x 28.6 cm x 10.8 cm; 3 1/16 in x 11 1/4 in x 4 1/4 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Chemistry
Clothing & Accessories
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Mr. Edward Mm Nagel
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

11/14/2012 3:58:55 PM
I'm only 14 but I think cast iron shoes are really cool.
7/18/2013 2:59:53 PM
Imagine having to walk far in those shoes during the summer. There must have been a scientific reason for the chemist to wear them.
7/18/2013 3:00:23 PM
How uncomfortable could those possibly be? Thank goodness for progress!
7/18/2013 3:08:38 PM
These shoes are amazingly awesome!
7/19/2013 10:45:34 AM
While an 18th century date is not impossible, the shape of this shoe suggests a date closer to 1825-1830. This is based on: (1) The narrow square toe, which was just coming into fashion in the 1820s. Broad square toes had been worn earlier in the 18th century, but were rare during Lavoisier’s adulthood. (2) Left-right differentiation. Most – but not all – footwear was made straight (undifferentiated) throughout the 18th century, and in many contexts well into the 19th. There was a flurry of interest in it c. 1825-1830, though this alone is not enough to be definitive. (3) Pronounced swing (length-wise axis of the sole makes a bend at the waist toward the big toe). I have seen at least one example of this 1825-1830. All of these details became even more common in the mid 19th-century, so an even later date cannot be ruled out. The rivets and the leather remaining around the upper edge suggest that the shoes originally had an entire upper section made of leather, like an attached gaiter or spat, designed to protect the ankle and hold the shoe onto the foot. The gaiter would have fastened, perhaps with side or front lacing, or perhaps even with buttons on the inside of the ankle. See Figure 88 in my book, Women’s Shoes in America 1795-1930, to see what the gaiter might have looked like, though this is a stylish ladies’ version in nankeen. These shoes may technically be overshoes since they may have been intended to wear over other light indoor shoes. At the very least they would have required heavy socks or stockings. If the 1825-30 date is true, that unfortunately rules out the direct association with Lavoisier, who was guillotined in 1794, but they are fascinating nevertheless. Thank you for making them available online and for designing the website so that the public may post comments. Nancy Rexford
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