Have you ever thought about who invented the vape? We have too, so we did some digging to see what we could find :)
In 1927, Joseph Robinson applied for a patent for an electronic vaporiser. Its intended purpose was to be used for medicinal compounds. The patent was approved in 1930 however, the device was never made available for sale. The patent was stated as “for holding medicinal compounds which are electrically or otherwise heated to produce vapors for inhalation.”
The earliest E-cigarette can be traced back to an American man Herbert A. Gilbert. In 1963 Mr Gilbert patented “a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” that involved “replacing burning tobacco and paper with heated moist, flavoured air”. Gilbert said in a 2013 interview, that today’s e-cigarettes follow the basic design set forth in his original patent. Gilbert’s invention was nicotine-free, but it produced a flavoured vapour that was supposed to replace tobacco smoke. In 1963 Herbert A Gilbert applied for a patent for his “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette”, and the patent was granted in 1965. Gilbert got as far as making prototypes of the gadget, but there was not any real commercial interest because battery technology in the early 1960s was a lot different to the way we use batteries now. Rechargeable batteries were expensive and usually heavy, conventional batteries were not cheap either and had limited energy storage. In addition to that the doctors in 1963 had only just started warning people about the risks and dangers of smoking cigarettes but with over half of the American population smoking no one was looking for a safer alternative.
In 2001 Hon Lik who was a traditional Chinese medicine expert had recently lost his father from lung cancer decided it was time to give up his habit so he didn't suffer from the same fate as his father; like most Hon had tried nicotine patches and other NRT alternatives with no success. Hon then started experimenting with vaporisation systems trying to find a liquid that could imitate the feeling of inhaling tobacco smoke Eventually he settled on propylene glycol. This is non-toxic, creates a satisfying vapour, and makes a good solvent for nicotine and flavourings. Along with vegetable glycerine.
While Hon was on the search for liquids, he was using a large system built on a console. His next step was to make it into something portable and usable for a long period of time. This is where Han had the upper hand now into the early 2000’s where high capacity batteries ie Modern lithium ion batteries are more cost effective and reliable. Hon’s first designs used an ultrasonic emitter which in normal people terms means a jet of pressurised liquid would be turned to a mist of fine droplets by the extremely high frequency vibrations. He patented this design in 2003. However, when the first commercial product was released in 2004, it did not use the ultrasound system. Instead Hon switched to an atomiser using a heated coil, using the same principle as Gilbert’s original design. Since then dozens of improvements have been tried out and some have become mainstream. The two inventors who developed the concept and turned it into a real product gave us a great foundation to build on, that’s why modern vaping equipment is so good. And, of course, they did it all without any help from the cigarette industry.
Hon Lik is often credited with the invention of the modern e-cigarette, however tobacco companies have been developing nicotine generation aerosol devices since as early as 1963. A division of Phillip Morris released the MarkTen E-Cigarette that had been in development since 1990 and made its debut on teh market in 2013.
The E-cigarette was first introduced into the Chinese market in 2004. Many different versions made their way to the US, sold mostly online by small marketing firms. Then then entered the European and US major markets in 2006 and 2007 and began to rise in popularity.
The company that Hon worked for filed an international patent in November 2007, however many other Chinese and US companies copied his design illegally, so Hon has not received much financial reward for his life saving invention. Some US manufacturers have later compensated HON with out of court settlements.
Vaporisers have been through numerous different “generations” of design since then to become what vaping is today.