Science: Cashing In on the Comet

Halley's approach launches a commercial bombardment

In the spring of 1910, when Halley's comet last blazed through the skies, some people were so afraid of the poisonous cyanogen vapors said to be in its tail that they barricaded themselves in their houses, sealing the windows and doors. As they cowered, they gulped down comet pills or sniffed on comet inhalers. Braver sorts wearing comet-shaped diamond hatpins or toting comet-knobbed walking canes flocked to rooftop parties at the old Waldorf-Astoria. In advertisements, bars of soap and cans of coffee were depicted flying through space, feathery tails in their wake. Comet mania was at fever pitch, and freewheeling entrepreneurs...

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