Unraveling the Surprising History of Vaping Devices

February 13, 2018

The invention of the modern electronic cigarette is one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of the tobacco health crisis. A device that can offer nicotine without the combustion and tar seemed promising. Unfortunately, when vaping hit the global market initially, everyone thought it was just a fad. With smoking being the leading cause of preventable deaths in the world, people are starting to realize the benefits vaping can offer to their loved ones.

You might think vaping is relatively new but it has been around longer than you think. With technology and consumer needs rapidly changing, the vaping devices you see today are far more advanced and personable than what you may have seen in the early 2000’s.

Let’s take a look at the fascinating story of how vaping devices progressed to where it is today.


So, when did people start vaporizing?


5th Century Scythians Vaping and 15th Century First Hookah

The idea of vaporizing dates back to the 5th century B.C by the ancient people of Scythia. According to Greek historian Herodotus, the concept of vaporizing has its roots in vaping cannabis.

As described in Herodotus’s book, “The History of Herodotus”, Scythians would vaporize marijuana flower on top of hot coals and sit in enclosed tents as a ritual to honor the dead.

“The Scythians take some of this hemp-seed and throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it vaporizes and gives out such a vapor as no Grecian vapor-bath can exceed; the Scythians, delighted, shout for joy.”

In short, the ancient Scythian people got very high from vaporized THC. Even though their intentions weren’t for harm reduction, the idea of heating instead of burning has been around for ages.

The same concept of using a heating element to vaporize instead of burning lead to the creation of Hookah in the 15th century. Innovations in vaping devices since the creation of hookah weren’t seen until the 20th century.


The History of Modern Vaping Devices



1930 First Electronic Vaporizer - Joseph Robinson

Interestingly, the first “electric vaporizer” was filed for a patent in 1927 and it was published in 1930 by a gentleman named Joseph Robinson. You might be thinking ‘What!?’, people were chucking huge clouds back in the day?? No, not really. The idea here was to create an easy to use device to vaporize medicinal compounds instead of burning them. Although this device wasn’t invented as a tobacco alternative made specifically for nicotine, the main components of the design are similar to what we see today in modern e-cigs. The product never hit the market and we don't know if a prototype has ever been made. Nevertheless, it's important that the concept of vaporizing instead of burning was thought of during that day and age with the available technology. 


1965 Smokeless Non-Tobacco Cigarette Device - Herbert A Gilbert

Herbert A. Gilbert is widely recognized as the inventor of the first e-cig. Herbert Gilbert filed a patent in 1963 for a “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” device. The idea to vaporize flavored air versus using combustion was first of its kind. Herbert mentioned in an interview that his logic told him that inhaling combusted material can’t be good for anyone’s health.

The “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” device didn’t include nicotine but the core components of the device are no different from what e-cigarettes are today.  

In 1965, his patent was published and Herbert created prototypes but failed to get it commercialized. Herbert was ahead of his time and his ingenuity marked a beginning to a new era.


1978-79 Favor Smokeless Cigarettes - Norman Jacobson

In the late 70’s, Phil Ray and Norman Jacobson commercialized the first variation of an e-cigarette. Phil Ray wanted to create a device that would only inhale pure nicotine. Phil and Norman are credited for popularizing the term “vape” in the mainstream market.

Although the vaping device wasn’t electronic, it was the first in its class to use evaporated nicotine. During this time, it wasn’t known if nicotine was dangerous but Phil and Norman understood that the highly toxic chemicals were the added ingredients in cigarettes.

You might be wondering, if the device isn’t electronic, how is the nicotine getting vaporized? Interestingly, the device looks just like a cigarette and instead of tobacco, the filter paper was soaked in nicotine. All you had to do was inhale and you would draw in vaporized nicotine!

The product was produced by Advanced Tobacco Products and was called Favor with a catchy tagline of “Do Yourself a Favor”. Unfortunately, the device didn’t catch much ground since the product had a very short shelf life. Although the product was defective, it led other inventors and companies to take a closer look at providing nicotine in safer ways.


1990's Anti-Smoking Movement - Accord PMI, Eclipse Reynolds, Volcano Vaporizer, and Eagle Bill

With the height of the anti-smoking movement in the early nineties, there was an explosion of patents by individual inventors and tobacco companies. In the marijuana industry, vaporizing marijuana was becoming a subject of interest in the medical marijuana community and patents were filed for marijuana vaping devices.

Other devices for smoking alternatives such as ‘heat not burn’ products formed in the late 80’s were coming in the forefront in the nineties.  

According to Consumer Advocates of Smoke-Free Alternatives, a tobacco company in 1998 came out with an electronic cigarette but was turned down by the FDA as it was considered an unapproved drug delivery system. This stoppage may explain one of the reasons tobacco companies were not successful in commercializing vaping devices.


2003 First Modern Electronic Cigarettes - Hon Lik

In 2003, a Chinese pharmacist and heavy smoker named Hon Lik developed what would become the first commercially successful e-cigarette. After Hon Lik’s father passed away from lung cancer, Hon was motivated to save lives and turned Herbert’s vision into a reality. Hon patented a device called Ruyan meaning “like smoke” in Chinese. The Ruyan uses an ultrasonic atomizer whereas the modern e-cigarettes today use battery powered atomizers.

This device was introduced into the world market in 2006 and since then, vaping technology has advanced incredibly fast due to the popularity of vaping.

In our next blog, find out how vaping devices evolved since 2003!   

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