Patent Fashions – The Springolator

In honour of spring I thought this topic seemed timely… The schematic drawings by Maxwell Sachs, filed Dec 11, 1951 and approved October 1954, are for the Spring-o-lator mule – a huge fashion hit in the mid 1950s. As shown on the drawings, between the ball and heel of the insole was a bridge of elastic tape that would stretch, sucking the shoe up to the bottom of the foot via the tension of the stretched elastic. American shoe designer Beth Levine (wife of shoe company owner Herbert Levine) was shown the drawings by Maxwell Sachs. He had no practical application in mind for his invention, although he thought it might be useful as an orthopedic insole. Beth Levine realized its potential for keeping high-heeled mules in place. She called her fashion sandals “magnet-socks” and demonstrated a pair at a shoe convention by running across the lobby while wearing a pair.

Spring-o-lator mule, c. 1957

Herbert Levine shipped thirty-six ┬ápairs to each of three stores in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles for test marketing and within days they were sold out. The Los Angeles store immediately re-ordered but cancelled the following day because other manufacturers were already knocking off the mule. The patent holder had ignored a verbal agreement with Herbert Levine for a six-month production exclusive in exchange for the magnet-sock idea. Sachs registered the name spring-o-lator and made the patent available for production to anyone willing to pay a royalty. The shoes were in production even before the patent was approved, and if you look carefully at the writing in spring-o-lators, some will say ‘patent pending’, while others will give the patent number, which is awarded after a patent is approved. The fashion lasted from mid 1954 until 1958, and then slowly fell off in popularity when the pointed toe came into fashion.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian. He was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, and the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. He has amassed a collection of nearly 8,000 items dating from the mid 17th century to the present, and has written various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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3 Responses to Patent Fashions – The Springolator

  1. Tracy says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I was asked a question just today by a friend about Springolators. We both bought some vintage shoes at an estate sale a couple of weeks ago, she was trying to date hers. She said they look 80s, but I’m pretty sure there was nothing like that at that time. Do you know if this design was pretty much made only during that brief time in the 50s, or do you know of any others trying to “resurrect” the design in later years? I haven’t seen hers actually, but they are likely European, as most of the collection was.

    And, while I’m here….I purchased almost 60 pairs from this sale, all unworn, still in their boxes, ranging from the 40’s to 70’s. They were all catalouged, they have detailed descriptions and measurements on the boxes, and some have a papers stapled to the boxes with a hand drawing of the shoe inside. Some say “Listed #1″ with a date. Seems as if they may have been displayed somewhere. Does that sound like something that would be by someone who was just collecting, or something a bit more formal?

    Thanks for your time,
    Tracy

    • Jonathan says:

      To answer your second query first – It’s not like any formal museum-style cataloguing system that I have heard of – probably some type of inventory control by a private collector. The collection sounds interesting!

      As for Spring-o-lators, the newest pair I have ever seen were mid 1960s. I would have to see a picture of her shoes to know better. I don’t recall ever hearing of a manufacturer reviving the style. If you want, you can send a pic to kickshaw@rogers.com

  2. Jen O says:

    Now that was a fun ‘blast from the past’, as I do remember the spring-o-later, and as a child wondered about the elastic insole. Thanks for the profile on this fun shoe.

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