A shoe phone is a communications device concealed in an ordinary shoe. It was a famous gadget in the 1960s TV spy spoof Get Smart. The joke was that the shoe phone, like many gadgets in the show, was highly impractical and hardly secret. Various real shoe phones have been created, most in imitation of the Get Smart device. In 2008, an Australian engineer created a real shoe phone as a joke, before realizing it had practical medical applications.
During the 1960s, the success of the James Bond books and films inspired a worldwide craze for high-tech, fanciful spy thrillers. In 1965, famed comedy writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry launched Get Smart, which ran until 1970 and has been revived periodically ever since. Agent Maxwell Smart, originally played by actor Don Adams, was clueless and inept, unlike his big-screen counterparts. In the films, James Bond was famous for his wide array of high-tech gadgets. Maxwell Smart had his own gadgets, most of which were unnecessary, impractical, or obvious and sometimes all three.
The most famous of these was the shoe phone, which Smart used to communicate with his supervisor, the Chief. Unfortunately, the phone had a tendency to ring at inopportune times, and Smart had to take off the shoe to speak into it, causing many comic situations. Ironically, the shoe phone had a real-life counterpart: a miniaturized transmitter in a shoe that was used by Soviet KGB agents during the Cold War. It was actually a bug, or concealed microphone, rather than a working telephone. It is not known if the KGB technicians were fans of Get Smart.
Various real shoe phones have been created in the years since Get Smart ceased production. Some have simply been telephone handsets in the shape of high-heel shoes and the like. Others were created as memorabilia for the TV series or the 2008 Get Smart film. In 2005, wealthy basketball star Shaquille O’Neal had a cellphone incorporated into one of his oversized sneakers. Most of these did not function as both shoes and phones; O’Neal broke his cellphone when he tried to walk on it.
In 2008, Australian engineer Paul Gardner-Stephen created a working shoe phone by incorporating cellphone circuitry into a dress shoe. Gardner-Stephen was a fan of Get Smart, and the device was created as a lark. He soon realized, however, that it had practical applications as a medical device. It could be integrated with technology to detect falls or other medical crises and remotely alert emergency personnel. An Australian medical school explored the shoe phone’s use with elderly patients, who may be reluctant or careless regarding most technological devices, but are unlikely to forget to put on their shoes.