Who Invented Vape? Have you ever wondered?

Ever wondered who invented the vape we have come to love and enjoy? We are sure that if you search for the results you will find multiple articles based on assertions and misconceptions, but we have taken the time to research the topic for you. Vape has a history that goes back to the early 1960s, and it’s nothing like what the media make it sound like.

Dangerous Misconception

It’s is widely understood by anti-vaping activists, and their supporting journalists, to imply – or openly state – that e-cigarettes were invented by the tobacco companies to hook the younger populations on nicotine products and encourage them to buy cigarettes. Even when the discussion revolves around flavoured e-liquids, the same conclusion is reached with the repeating argument. The truth is that the tobacco companies had absolutely nothing to do with the invention of e-cigarettes. In fact, for years they ignored them or supported efforts to have them banned.

The truth is that vapes were invented by the individuals who wanted to stop smoking and their aim was to have fewer smokers buying cigarettes. They were about as far from being a plot by the tobacco companies as it was possible to get. So, who were the inventors?

Early Inventions

The first electronic cigarette was developed in America in the early 1960s. In 1963 Herbert A Gilbert applied for a patent for his “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette”, and the patent was granted in 1965. Gilbert’s invention was nicotine-free, but it produced a flavoured vapour that was supposed to replace tobacco smoke.

Gilbert actually got as far as making prototypes of the gadget, but there wasn’t any real commercial interest. Doctors had only just started to warn of the dangers of smoking. What did Herbert Face? Nobody was concerned about the health risks involved in nicotine smoking so nobody was looking for a safer alternative.

There were some technical challenges, too. Gilbert’s design relied on battery power, but battery technology in the early 1960s was a long way behind where it is now. Rechargeable batteries were expensive and usually heavy; conventional batteries weren’t cheap either and had limited energy storage. The first electronic cigarette was ahead of its time both socially and technologically, and after Gilbert’s patent was granted the concept remained untouched for almost 40 years.

The breakthrough

In 2001, the concept was recreated by Hon Lik.  Hon Lik was a pharmacist and Chinese traditional medicine expert who worked in an agricultural research lab. His father had sadly recently died of lung cancer and Hon, a heavy smoker himself, decided it was time to quit the habit. Like many people do, Hon tried nicotine patches and found that they didn’t really work very well. Luckily for Hon he had the skills and resources to try something else.

Hon started experimenting with a vaporisation system, testing various liquids to find one that could replicate the feel of inhaling tobacco smoke. Eventually he settled on propylene glycol (PG), a common food additive. This is non-toxic, creates a satisfying vapour, and makes a good solvent for nicotine and flavourings. Along with vegetable glycerine (VG) it’s still one of the main ingredients in e-liquid.

While he was looking for liquids, Hon was using a large system built on a console. The next step was to transform the larger system into something that an individual could actually use. A big advantage he had that Herbert A Gilbert missed out on was affordable, high-capacity batteries. Hon found that the Modern lithium ion batteries, as used in phones, media players and laptops, can store enough energy to run an e-cig for hours at a time.

Hon’s first designs used an ultrasonic emitter; a jet of pressurised liquid would be turned to a mist of fine droplets by the very high frequency vibrations. He patented this design in 2003. However, when the first commercial product was released in 2004, it didn’t use the ultrasound system. Instead Hon switched to an atomiser using a heated coil, using the same principle as Gilbert’s original design. All subsequent vapes have used this system, which can produce more vapour and also heats it up.

Todays Technology

Hon Lik and Herbert A Gilbert share the credit for the basic design of the modern vape device. Today there are a vast number of other inventions and systems which have gone into the products available on the shelves.  For example two British vapers, Umar and Tariq Sheikh, improved the basic three-piece design by combining the cartridge and atomiser into a cartomiser. Two other Brits, Matt and Ted Rogers, developed the first “mod”, which has developed into a culture of being able to tailor the vape experience to the individual users needs.

Since the original release in 2003, dozens of improvements have been tried out, many of them by hobbyists and vapourists, with some becoming so successful they have entered the mainstream. The two inventors, Hon Like & Herbet A Gilbert, developed the concept and turned it into a real product gave us a great foundation to build on. That’s why modern vaping equipment has reached the standard we expect today. And, of course, they did it all without any help or financial backing from the cigarette industry. So the next time anyone says e-cigarettes are all a Big Tobacco plot, you can firmly explain to them why they’re wrong and how it was originally created on the back of research and for Hon, the death of his father.


Mr. Herbert A Gilbert (1960s)                   Mr Hon Lik

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