When historians compile lists of the stuff that helped make America America, they don’t even rank the DeMoulin’s Patent Lung Tester alongside even relatively minor inventions like the cotton gin, the telegraph, and the automobile, much less epic game-changers such as instant coffee and air conditioning. Surely this is an oversight.

Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes. Introduction by Charles Schneider; appreciation by David Copperfield. 240 pages. Fantagraphics Books. $22.99.

The DeMoulin Lung Tester was a plain, serious-looking box with a nickel-plated mouthpiece and a calibrated dial on its face. Its ostensible purpose was to measure a man’s lung capacity, the bulky antecedent to today’s spirometers. Its real purpose was to measure a man’s ability to maintain his composure after being made the butt of a joke. When an unsuspecting… More…

 

Suppose the horse-and-carriage industry not only survived the introduction of the automobile but actually flourished as cars grew commonplace? What if 8-track tapes were a billion-dollar business today, more popular than iPods and Zunes? Would that be any stranger than the fact that consumers have purchased millions and millions of calendars in the last few weeks?

According to Publishers Weekly, there were fewer than 200 calendars for sale in 1976. Today, there are more than 6,500 from which to choose. Part of this proliferation is due to the fact that we once got the bulk of our calendars for free, from banks, insurance companies, and other businesses eager to keep their phone numbers in front of their customers’ eyes throughout the year. But it’s not as if those businesses were giving away more than one copy to each… More…