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…