Dr. Scholl’s… or “Dr.” Scholl’s?: A Hoosier’s Empire Built on Advertising

50th Anniversary Advertisement, Life Magazine, June 14, 1954, 3, accessed Google Books.
50th Anniversary Advertisement, Life Magazine, June 14, 1954, 3, accessed Google Books.

This post was originally published on the Hoosier State Chronicles blog.

Many companies choose a face for their brand and then build a mythology around it. For example, the Converted Rice Company marketed their new parboiled, vacuum-dried rice as the homey-sounding “Uncle Ben’s Rice.”  The company used the racially charged nomenclature “uncle” and an image of a distinguished-looking African American man to imply that the product would be like a friendly servant for the housewife.  The company  has claimed at various times that “Uncle Ben” was a respected rice grower or a hotel maitre d’, but more likely he never existed — much like Mr. Clean, Sara Lee, or Mr. Goodwrench.

William M. Scholl, passport photo, 1921, accessed AncestryLibrary.
William M. Scholl, passport photo, 1921, accessed AncestryLibrary.

While there are plenty of questions surrounding his origin story, the man called “Dr. Scholl,” was not only the founder of one of the most famous companies in the world and the inventor of many of its products, but he was a master of the world of advertising — changing the business in innovative ways. Scholl may (or may not) have been a quack doctor, but he was a crackerjack businessman.

William Scholl, passport photograph, 1915, accessed AncestryLibrary
William M. Scholl, passport photograph, 1915, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

William Mathais Scholl was born on a farm in Kankakee, LaPorte County, Indiana in 1882.* According to the 1900 census, William spent his youth working as a laborer on his parents’ farm, along with many other siblings.  Sometime around 1900, Scholl moved to Chicago and found a job as a salesman at the popular Ruppert’s Shoe Store on Madison Street. Here, he encountered a variety of foot problems faced by his customers and became interested in podiatry. That same year, secondary sources claim, he enrolled in medical school at Loyola University. This has been hotly debated.

Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed GoogleBooks

Despite investigations beginning in the 1920s and continuing today, it is still unclear if Scholl graduated with a medical degree around 1904 as he claimed. The Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine in Chicago supports the Scholl Museum which is dedicated to memorializing his achievements and authoritatively refers to him as “Dr. William Mathias Scholl.” However, the records of the American Medical Association tell a different story.  According to Robert McClory’s investigative piece for the Chicago Reader in 1994:

“Visit the recently opened Scholl Museum . . . and you’ll find the doctor and his achievements raised to almost mythic levels . . . But check through the old AMA records and you’ll read about a man whose credentials are ‘entirely irregular,’ whose methods smack ‘strongly of quackery,’ and whose products ‘cannot be recommended’.”

There are also questions about his state medical license, as well as a later degree he claimed from the  Chicago Medical College, an institution described by the American Medical Association as “low grade.” The AMA described Scholl’s “whole record” as “entirely irregular.”

Instep-arch support patent [marketed as Foot-Eazer], Publication date April 25, 1911, accessed Google Patents
Instep-arch support patent [marketed as Foot-Eazer], Publication date April 25, 1911, accessed Google Patents.

Dr. Scholl, or “Dr.” Scholl,  built an empire which has made his name recognizable all over the world.  Degree in hand or not, at the turn of the twentieth century, young Scholl was busy inventing various devices intended to alleviate foot pain.  One such device was the “Foot-Eazer,” which was  a hit with the Ruppert’s Shoe Store customers. Supposedly one customer offered him several thousand dollars to start his business.  He declined the offer, but was inspired to start his own business.

Elevated Railroad Station at East Madison Boulevard and Wells Street [near Scholl's building] November 1, 1913, Chicago Daily News Photograph, Chicago History Museum, accessed Explore Chicago Collections, explore.chicagocollections.org/image/chicagohistory/71/qr4p14f/
Elevated Railroad Station at East Madison Boulevard and Wells Street [near Scholl’s first office] November 1, 1913, Chicago Daily News Photograph, Chicago History Museum, accessed Explore Chicago Collections.
In 1904, Scholl set up shop in a small office in a building at 283-285 E. Madison Street in Chicago – the first location of the Scholl Manufacturing  Company. By the next year, he began innovating new advertising techniques.  Scholl would purportedly travel to various shoe stores, ask for the manager, and take out a human foot skeleton and put it on the counter. He used the foot to show how complicated and delicate all of the tiny bones are that hold so much weight and take so much abuse.  He would demonstrate how supportive and comfortable his products worked.

Western Wheel Works, engraving, 1890, accessed chicagology.com/cycling/westernwheelworks
Western Wheel Works, engraving, 1890, accessed Chicagology.com.

Whether or not his products worked, his strategy of marketing directly to the store manager did. In addition to charging for the construction of the product, he also charged for consultations and fittings.  Business boomed and in 1907 he moved into five rooms in a building on Schiller Street which had been abandoned by Western Wheel Works, a bicycle company.  Almost immediately, he purchased the building and expanded the factory until it took up the entire block.  The building stands and is in use as the Cobbler Square apartment complex —  a nod to it’s former use.

By 1908, Scholl was using advertisements in trade journals to continue marketing his products directly to shoe store owners and managers.  His approach at this point was to set up a booth at various fairs and train these prospective clients on how to talk about the Foot-Eazer “from a scientific prospective.” The ad below addresses these shoe store managers with several lofty promises about the Foot-Eazer:

“It will pay you well to be an expert in correcting foot troubles. . . you can sell a pair to one customer out of every three. Your profit is a dollar a pair – if you have 3000 customers that’s a thousand dollars for you . . .You will understand the science of it the moment you see it . . . as I have been allowed sweeping patents on it no one else can make anything like it.”

Scholl explained to this clients that his product was backed by “science,”  would make them rich, and he was the only one who could provide it.

Advertisement for Shoe Fair by Scholl Manufacturing Co., The Shoe Retailer, August 22, 1908, accessed Google Books.
Advertisement for Shoe Fair by Scholl Manufacturing Co., The Shoe Retailer, August 22, 1908, accessed Google Books.
William Scholl, Practipedics : the science of giving foot comfort and correcting the cause of foot and shoe troubles (Chicago: 1917) accessed Archive.org
William Scholl, Practipedics : the Science of Giving Foot Comfort and Correcting the Cause of Foot and Shoe Troubles (Chicago: American School of Practipedics, 1917) accessed Archive.org

By 1909 he was recruiting teams of salespeople to approach the store owners for him.  He set up a correspondence course to teach them the anatomy of the foot and the “science” behind his products. The course was called “Practipedics” and was described as “The Science of Giving Foot Comfort and Correcting the Cause of Foot and Shoe Troubles Based on the Experience, Inventions and Methods of Dr. William M. Scholl.” The ads from this period show that he was marketing these classes and sales opportunities to both men and women, an interesting approach for a time when few women worked outside the home. The ad below shows a woman studying the Foot-Eazer and promises that “This Alone Should Pay Your Rent.”

Advertisement for Salespeople, Boot and Shoe Recorder, April 8, 1916, 52, accessed Google Books
Advertisement for Salespeople, Boot and Shoe Recorder, April 8, 1916, 52, accessed GoogleBooks

From here, Scholl’s business expanded even more quickly.  By the time the U.S. entered World War One, Scholl was marketing to three different audiences — managers and owners of shoe stores, retail customers, and potential sales recruits — all through extensive advertising.  Hoosier State Chronicles has a wealth of examples of ads for Scholl’s products, for stores selling them, and even for the Practipedics course. Indiana shoe stores often advertised special days where Scholl’s salespeople, presented as medical experts in foot care, would be at the store for personal fittings. In a 1917 issue of the Indianapolis News, the New York Store advertised their latest shoe styles and noted that they carried “A Complete Line of Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Appliances.” In 1920, the South Bend Shoe Company advertised in the South Bend News-Tribune: “Foot Expert Here . . . A specialist from Chicago loaned to this store by Dr. Wm. M. Scholl the recognized foot authority.” This “expert” was most likely trained via correspondence course or week-long class and almost certainly never met Scholl.

Indianapolis News, May 10, 1917, 8, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, May 10, 1917, 8, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Tribune, October 1, 1920, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Tribune, October 1, 1920, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Sometimes all three of Scholl’s audiences were targeted in one message, such as in the advertisement below from the Indianapolis News.  First, the ad promises foot comfort to the average reader and pedestrian and  explains to them the product while emphasizing the availability of “medically” trained dealers. Second, it advertises Marott’s Shoe Shop on East Washington who’s owners will have to stock up on Scholl’s products and provide the  “foot expert.”  Finally, the ad explains to the shoe dealers and other potential Scholl’s salespeople how to register for the next Scholl’s training course in Indianapolis. Additionally, Marrott’s Shoe Shop was a “Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Store” which was supposed to consistently staff such  “trained” foot experts — not just for special events.  In Marrott’s advertisement which ran below the Scholl’s advertisement, the store claims that “Dr Scholl’s Foot Appliances are handled exclusively in Indianapolis by Marott’s Shoe Shop.”  However, a search of Hoosier State Chronicles shows several other Indianapolis stores schilling for Scholl — including the New York Store from the advertisement above.

Indianapolis News, March 27, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles
Indianapolis News, March 27, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles

Another  Indiana “Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Store” was the Lion Store in Hammond.  They were one of many stores around the country to participate in Scholl’s marketing plan for “Foot Comfort Week.” They advertised their participation and “foot expert” in the Hammond Times on June 12, 1917. Even general clothing stores participated in the marketing scheme.  On June 21, 1917, the E. C. Minas Company, which called itself “Hammond’s Greatest Department Store,” advertised “Foot Comfort Week” in the Hammond Times which the ad claimed was happening “throughout the continent.”  They noted that their store carried “the complete line” of Scholl’s appliances and “experts at fitting them to individual needs.”  Later ads for the week-long event had more outrageous marketing schemes such advertisements for “Prettiest Foot” contests. Search Hoosier State Chronicles for more.

Hammond Times, June 12, 1920, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Hammond Times, June 12, 1920, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books

By the end of the war, Scholl’s company was established across the U.S, Europe, Egypt, and even Australia.  He had also established a Podiatry College and written a text book. However, medical doctors working in the field were quick to criticize Scholl’s entangled business and medical operations and began to publicly question his qualifications. In 1923, the National Association of Chiropodists passed a resolution condemning Scholl’s work and banning him from advertising in their publications. Again, Robert McClory’s investigative article is the best source for more information on the controversy stirred up around Scholl’s standing in the medical community.

Toe-Straightening Device, US1055810, Publication Date March 11, 1913, accessed Google Patents
Toe-Straightening Device, US1055810, Publication Date March 11, 1913, accessed Google Patents

Scholl was not slowed down by the nay-saying in the least. He continued to invent, patent foot products, and open new stores around the world.  According to McClory:

“In his lifetime Scholl would create more than 1,000 patented ointments, sprays, cushions, pads, supports, shields, springs and other mechanical and chemical gizmos for the feet. Eventually the Scholl empire would include more than 400 outlet stores and employ some 6,000 people worldwide.”

According to a short essay by Fred Cavinder in Forgotten Hoosiers (2009), during World War II, the Scholl plant in England made surgical and hospital equipment while the Chicago plant converted to the manufacture of military equipment. Cavinder writes, “As Word War II ended, Dr. Scholl invented the compact display fixture with the familiar blue and yellow colors.”

Advertisement, Life Magazine, Jun 12, 1939, 41, accessed Google Books
Advertisement, Life Magazine, Jun 12, 1939, 41, accessed Google Books

Scholl remained connected to the northwest region of Indiana throughout his life.  He resided primarily in a single rented room at the downtown Chicago Illinois Athletic Club.  However, later in life he purchased a home in Michigan City, Indiana, where he had moved  his side business, Arno Adhesive Tapes. This company made all of the plaster and tape for the Dr. Scholl products. In the 1960s, Arno also expanded greatly and Scholl, now in his seventies, remained just as active in its management.

Greencastle Daily Banner, November 30, 1954, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
Greencastle Daily Banner, November 30, 1954, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Scholl died in 1968 and is buried in Pine Lake Cemetery in La Porte Indiana.  His family sold the Scholl’s brand to a large pharmaceutical company in 1979 and it remains successful to this day. So whether we remember him as “Dr.” or Dr. Scholl, he created an empire, changed an industry, and invented new ways to market and advertise.  Search Hoosier State Chronicles for the many more advertisements.

Richmond Daily Palladium, April 26, 1922, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Richmond Daily Palladium, April 26, 1922, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles.

* The 1900 census gives his birth year as 1884, but all other records including passport applications, WWI draft card, and death records cite 1882 as the correct year.

For further information, especially on the controversy surrounding Scholl’s medical qualifications see:

Robert McClory, “Best Foot Forward,” Chicago Reader, January 13, 1994,  accessed ChicagoReader.com

Dr. Helene Knabe: A Vanguard

Graduation Portrait, Medical College of Indiana, 1904, courtesy of the Indiana University School of Medicine Ruth Lilly Special Collections.

The black snake undulated between the two women, winding back and forth, circling overhead. A lascivious leer seemed to be affixed to the snake’s mouth as it weaved, moving the women closer, but then winding between and pulling them apart. Augusta Knabe could not bear to see this horrible apparition between them. She reached for her cousin.

Augusta lost her grip on Helene and sat up in bed, struggling to catch her breath. She pushed her sweat-drenched hair back and collected herself. What a horrible dream! Augusta felt guilty she had not accepted her cousin’s offer of tea the past afternoon. She was sure the dream was her penance for wanting to avoid late afternoon traffic and enjoy the comfort of her home after shopping. Augusta promised herself she would stop by Helene’s flat after school and take her to tea the very next afternoon. Despite this promise, Augusta passed the rest of the night fitfully.


Augusta’s cousin, Helene Elise Hermine Knabe, yearned to be a doctor. In Germany women were not allowed in medical school until 1900 and it would not be allowed for women in the German state of Prussia, where she lived, until 1908. Her father, Otto Windschild, left her mother when Knabe was an infant and she was raised by her uncle after her mother died. Given her humble upbringing, becoming a doctor became more of a dream and less a reality with each passing year.

Augusta Knabe (R), cousin, and Katherine McPherson (L), an office assistant, courtesy of “State’s Most Important Witnesses in Knabe Case,” Indianapolis News, December 6, 1913.

When Augusta informed Helene that women were allowed to attend medical school in America, Helene’s life changed forever and she moved to Indianapolis in 1896.  The motto she heard most often growing up was “You cannot be a master in anything unless you know every detail of the work.” No one applied this maxim more than Knabe.  To prepare for school she worked for four years in domestic and seamstress work in order to learn English from the upper class. She attended Butler University for a term to supplement her self-learning and to prepare her for the rigors of medical school.

In 1900, Knabe entered the co-educational Medical College of Indiana (MCI). She was required to attend classes, dissect every body part of cadavers, maintain a 75% grade in all classes, refrain from drinking, and work fourteen hour days. During this time, she continued as a seamstress to supplement her income. Knabe also used her drawing skills by providing medical textbook illustrations to several books, including detailed sketches for anatomy, surgery, and pathology slides.

Dr. Knabe’s illustration of a neck wound. This would prove foretelling of the doctor’s fate.

Knabe proved a trailblazer with her medical school accomplishments. Dr. Frank B. Wynn, the Director of Pathology at MCI, appointed her curator of the pathology museum. She was consequently placed in charge of the pathology labs at the school.  Much to the chagrin of many of her male peers, Dr. Wynn chose her to be his only preceptee for the year. She began teaching underclassmen, an unheard of honor for a student. On April 22, 1904, Knabe became one of two women to graduate from MCI. She threw herself wholeheartedly into her profession, burning the candle at both ends to gain a foothold in practice, networking, and skills.

Dr. Knabe stayed on in her positions as lab curator and clinical professor—for which she was not paid. Appointed a deputy state health officer in 1905 by Dr. J. N. Hurty, the Secretary of the Indiana State Board of Health (ISBH), Dr. Knabe became the first woman to hold this office in Indiana. Part of her duties involved investigating suspected epidemics, such as typhoid and diphtheria, and making recommendations to reverse unsanitary conditions. Dr. Knabe routinely traveled the state to work with the public and doctors, and processed hundreds of pathological samples.

Despite Dr. Knabe’s expertise, Dr. Hurty did not hire her as superintendent of the lab. Instead, he chose Dr. T. V. Keene, regardless of the fact that he did not apply for the job. As the laboratory grew, Dr. Knabe became Assistant Bacteriologist and was expected to work longer hours and spend more time in the field. During her work at the ISBH, Dr. Knabe presented papers and worked with the public in diagnosis and education. Local papers interviewed her for her thoughts on how to make Indianapolis a more beautiful and clean city.

Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1911, 4.

Dr. Knabe also kept current on new methods, most notably studying with Dr. Anna Wessel Williams of the New York Research Laboratory. Dr. Williams was brilliant in her own right as the originator of the rapid diagnosis of rabies, which was based on research from Negril and the co-developer of the diphtheria antitoxin. Dr. Knabe proved the widespread existence of rabies in Indiana. From this work, she implemented ways to prevent the spread of rabies by educating the public about the disease and its consequences.

Widely accepted as the state expert on rabies, Dr. Knabe was promoted to acting superintendent and paid $1,400 annually. Dr. Hurty promised her the superintendent position and an increase to $1,800 or $2,000. Over a year later Dr. Hurty told Dr. Knabe that there was no money for her salary increase and that because she was a woman she could not command the amount of money the position should pay anyway. Dr. Knabe contacted the newspaper and tendered her resignation, citing discrimination and broken promises.

Dr. Hurty had searched for what he considered “a real capable man” by actively recruiting Dr. Simmonds as the new superintendent. Additionally, although Dr. Hurty told Dr. Knabe the state had no money for her raise, he informed Dr. Simmonds he would pay $2,000 the first year and $3,000 in the second. That was a 47% increase from Dr. Knabe’s salary. The final slap in the face came from Dr. Simmonds himself in the first 1909 Indiana State Board of Health bulletin. He published Dr. Knabe’s findings about rabies in Indiana and elsewhere without crediting her.

Dr. Knabe’s illustration, courtesy of “A Parting Word to the Class of I.M.C 1907,” The Medical Student. (1907) vol. 5, no. 8 (19. 21-25).

Leaving the oppressiveness of state employ could not have been better for Dr. Knabe. Her dedication to medicine was rejuvenated. She opened her own private practice and continued her rabies research at $75 or more per case. While many female physicians shied away from accepting male patients because they may not be taken seriously or feared being attacked by male patients, Dr. Knabe insisted on having a phone installed in her apartment in case a patient needed her. She would always answer a knock or a call, regardless of the hour. Quite often she would treat people for free or accept payments via the barter system. This is how she acquired a piano and the lessons to go with it.

One of her biggest achievements was when she became the first elected female faculty for the Indiana Veterinary College (IVC), where she was the Chair of the Parasitology and Hematology. Dr. Knabe’s tenure at the IVC predates any recognized woman department chair at any veterinary college in the United States prior to 1920.

Demonstrating her willingness to be a social feminist, Dr. Knabe bucked trends at every turn by her work in sex education. She served as the medical director and Associate Professor of Physiology and Hygiene, known today as sex education, at the Normal College of the North American Gymnastics Union in Indianapolis. She also networked with women’s clubs and the Flanner House to create and teach hygiene and sanitation practices to all ethnic groups across the State of Indiana, especially African American communities.


The same night that Augusta dreamt about the black snake, a person entered Dr. Knabe’s rooms at the Delaware Flats and brutally cut her throat from ear to ear. The killer was skilled enough to cut her on one side first, missing her carotid artery and cutting deep enough to cause her to choke on her blood. The second cut just nicked the carotid artery and cut into the spine. See Part II to learn how Dr. Knabe’s non-conformist lifestyle and work as a female physician would be used against her in the bungled pursuit of her killer.

* To learn more about the extraordinary life of Dr. Knabe, see She Sleeps Well: The Extraordinary Life and Murder of Dr. Helene Elise Hermine Knabe.