Vaporizers & Vaping

Who Invented Vaping? The History Behind Vaporization

Gabi Antunes

Jul 24, 2019

Vaping has a long and rich history rooted in ancient civilizations. That history has rapidly developed with the introduction of electronic vaporizers, which combine the newest tech with the age-old art of vaporizing herbs and oils. Although vaping looks very different today than it did when it was first recorded in ancient Egypt, it’s clear that humans have long enjoyed vaping. But who invented vaping and how did modern devices develop out of those ancient techniques?

How did vaping begin?

Vaping, in one form or another, has been a part of human civilization since the ancient Egyptians first placed herbs and oils on hot stones to produce aromatic vapors that filled saunas. That vapor would simply be inhaled as people breathed in the air. It was from these humble beginnings that the notion of vaping first took root.

The use of shisha in hookahs has been part of Indian culture for thousands of years and could be considered another early form of vaping. Hookahs use a vase filled with water to combine smoke and vapor, which is inhaled through a long hose. However, hookahs are vastly different from modern vapes in that they rely on combustion of materials, whereas vapes are designed to avoid combustion.

These early forms of vaping were developed prior to humanity’s harnessing of electricity, but the concept behind ancient vaporization techniques is much the same as the vape devices of today. The history of modern vaping and its origins, though, is more complicated.

Who invented modern vaping?

It is difficult to attribute the invention of “vaping” to any one person or group of people. The first known reference to modern vaping, however, is credited to Joseph Robinson, who filed for a patent of the first electronic vaporizer device in 1927. Whether Robinson actually “invented” modern vaping is unclear, though; his device was never manufactured commercially, and it is unknown whether he even developed a working prototype.

The next key figure in the invention of modern vaping is Herbert A. Gilbert, who developed working prototypes of electronic vaporizers in the 1960s. Gilbert’s device was never commercialized and mass-produced, however, and it would be more than a decade before vape devices would go mainstream. That moment came in 1979, when Phil Ray and Norman Jacobson developed the first modern vape device that would eventually become commercially available. Unfortunately, that device never worked reliably and ultimately became a failure; it’s only lasting success was bringing the term “vape” to the forefront.

For the next two decades, a series of patents would be issued for a variety of different vape devices, but each met with regulatory roadblocks that ultimately prevented mass market adoption. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prevented the commercialization of several devices patented throughout the 1990s, denying requests for approval on the grounds that electronic vaporizers were unapproved drug delivery devices. For a short time, that regulatory push back stemmed the development of electronic vaporizers in the U.S.

As it turns out, the first breakthrough in modern vape devices occurred in China. In 2003, a pharmacist from Beijing named Hon Lik created an electronic vaporizer that was mass produced and sold as the “Ruyan.” Within five years, electronic vaporizers would be introduced in European and American markets. Since, vaping has become immensely popular and vape devices have proliferated and evolved in a number of ways.

Why was modern vaping invented?

Hon Lik created the Ruyan after his father, a heavy smoker, died of lung disease. The inventor was a smoker himself and developed the Ruyan as an alternative tool for quitting smoking. He reportedly tried using other forms of nicotine replacement, such as patches, without success. Vaping, he decided, would offer a better way.

That was the same reason those early pioneers of vaporizers, including Robinson, Ray and Jacobson, were working on their designs. Even throughout the 1990s, when the FDA was denying companies’ requests to bring electronic vaporizers to market, creating a tool for quitting was the primary reason for the development of these products.

It wouldn’t be long, though, before electronic vaporizer technology was adapted for other uses. Although many vapes were created with smoking cessation in mind, it didn’t take long for them to evolve beyond that narrow use case. Today, vaporizers are commonly used for all sorts of dry herbs and concentrates, particularly within the cannabis community.

The rise of cannabis vaporizers

Today, of course, vapes are commonly used for cannabis consumption. There are a wide range of vaporizers available that can be used for both cannabis flower or concentrates like oils and waxes. These vapes began as bulky desktop units, which are still available today and lauded for their powerful vapor production. Since they were developed in the 1990s, though, cannabis vaporizers have evolved quite a bit to include compact, portable vaporizers, like the PAX 3.

Today, vaporizers are increasingly complex. Far gone from the days of relying on hot stones, many of these electronic devices are even capable of connecting to mobile applications via Bluetooth®, giving consumers a greater degree of control over temperature settings and customization.

Vaping is continuously evolving

The history of vaping is one of evolution and technological development. While vaping began to enjoy the aromas of dry herbs and oils, its modern design is now used for a discreet, low-odor way to consume cannabis flower and concentrates such as oils and waxes. While vape devices are becoming more sophisticated year after year, its ancient roots in enjoying herbs still stands strong today.