John Hutchinson, a surgeon, recognized that the volume of air that can be exhaled from fully inflated lungs is a powerful indicator of longevity. He invented the spirometer to measure what he called the vital capacity, ie, the capacity to live. Much later, the concept of the timed vital capacity, which became known as the FEV(1), was added. Together, these two numbers, vital capacity and FEV(1), are useful in identifying patients at risk of many diseases, including COPD, lung cancer, heart attack, stroke, and all-cause mortality. This article cites some of the rich history of the development of spirometry, and explores some of the barriers to the widespread application of simple spirometry in the offices of primary care physicians.