There are many groups of people who need regular lung function tests. People suffering from asthma or smokers need such tests to control their health condition and to predict clinical course. Preoperative examination and risk estimation also needs such lung function tests. Sportsmen especially athletes need their lung flow to be controlled. In these cases even continuous monitoring of lung flow is needed. To do all this special medical devices are used which are called spirometers.
The history of spirometers is very long and interesting. Probably the first volumetric experiment was performed in 200 A.D. by Galen. He discovered that the volume of air person breaths in and out remains unchanged in time. But that was a separate experiment and no complex devices were involved. The real history of spirometers actually begun in 1681. That year Borelli made a simple device to measure the volume of air being inspired during one breath. This device was pretty simple - just a tube with a liquid but it was the beginning of history of spirometers.
Later much more complex devices were developed. Till 1800 a great number of experiments were performed to determine the vital volume of lungs and several important parameters of lung flow measurements were introduced. In 1813 Kentish E. made an important step in history of spirometers - he constructed a device he called 'Pulmometer'. It was a bell-looking jar placed into water. This jar was specially graduated down the side. It was probably the first ever made and described spirometer. Further history of spirometers has improved the device significantly.
In 1845 Vierordt even published a book dedicated to spirometer devices called 'Physiologie des Athmens mit besonderer R?cksicht auf die Auscheidung der Kohlens?ure'. In this book author determined most of the volumetric parameters. In his papers (published in 1844) John Hutchinson called his device "spirometer". This device was pretty close to modern spirometers. He made a record of over 4000 persons lung tests and actually showed the liner relationship of vital capacity of lungs to height(and that it doesn't relates to person's weight).
In 1854 Wintrich modified the Hutchinson model of spirometer - it had become much easier to work with this device. Later special devices to record the data were added to spirometers and several new measuring parameters were introduced. In 1904 the first close-circuit spirometer was developed.
Nowadays you can find a great variety of different spirometers: there are simple pocket models for personal use and really complex pc based spirometers that allow performing a great number of different lung function tests. PC based spirometers are widely used today because they allow to represent all the parameters in a graph form which gives a better understanding of patient health condition. All the data can be stored on hard disk instead of paper (it allows dynamic monitoring of patient health changes through the time).