Vaporizers for cannabis consumption are prevalent in legal markets today, available in wide array of sizes, types, and capabilities. Vaping has deep roots in thousands of years of recorded history, with the advent of portable electronics pushing vaporization into a whole new frontier. However, if you were to ask when vaping was invented, you may find that the answer isn’t as clear-cut as you may think.
When was vaping invented?
The invention of vaping could be as old as ancient civilization or as recent as the early 21st century, depending on how you define it. There are many accounts of vaping and vaporizer-like devices throughout the centuries, and it is difficult to pin down an exact date of “invention.”
The first historical account of “vaping” in any form comes from 5th century BC. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote about Egyptians using hot stones to vaporize herbs and oils in enclosed, sauna-like spaces. These ancient vapers used their herbal concoctions to cleanse body and mind and induce meditative states.
Other early forms of vaping were recorded in the Middle East and India, where people have been using hot coals and a hookah to vape shisha (tobacco mixed with fruit) for thousands of years.
Those early methods have some similarities to modern vaping in function, but differ greatly from modern methods. Modern vaping typically relies on the use of electronic devices, but tracking the invention of the first successful electronic vape is a challenge as well. Between 1927 and 2003, there were an array of filed patents, built prototypes, and even a few devices brought to market. Even with this flurry of research, development, and commercial activity, the idea of an "inventor" of the electronic vaporizer is an open question.
Who invented vaping?
The first recorded concept of an electronic vaporizer comes from the U.S. in 1927, when Joseph Robinson filed a patent for the idea. Robinson never released a prototype, however, and so whether he can be credited with the invention of vaping remains an open question.
The first electronic vaporizer prototype was likely created by Herbert Gilbert in 1963. Gilbert failed to commercialize his product, however, and it would be more than 15 years before the first electronic vaporizer was commercialized.
In 1979, computer pioneer Phil Ray and his physician Norman Jacobson developed the first commercial vape, which was available through a range of major retailers. The device was generally unsuccessful, though, which Jacobson attributed to inherent flaws in its design. The duo succeeded, however, in popularizing the term “vape.”
Several patents for vape-like devices were filed by inventors throughout the 1990s. It was this period when devices closely resembling modern vaporizers first came onto the scene. Ultimately, these products were not commercialized to a significant extent due to barriers set up by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Then, in 2003, the first commercially successful electronic vaporizer was developed by pharmacist Hon Lik in Beijing, China. Lik applied for a patent for his new device, which was called the Ruyan and was mass produced by the company Golden Dragon Holdings.
While there are several inventors that could be credited with the development of the first electronic vaporizer, Lik is widely credited with the achievement. In the decade or so following Lik’s development of the Ruyan, electronic vaporizers quickly gained popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Despite a series of regulatory roadblocks presented by countries around the world, the electronic vaporizer industry continued to grow and dozens of companies introduced new designs into the market.
Why was vaping invented?
Lik cited the death of his father, who was a heavy smoker, as a primary motivation for his creation of the Ruyan. Lik, a heavy smoker himself, was looking for an alternative to cigarettes. Early electronic vaporizers followed the Ruyan model, but it wouldn’t be long before vaporizers expanded to the use of vaping dry herbs and oils.
TimelineBelow is a timeline of vaping through present day:
- Ancient civilization: The concept of vaping took root in ancient Egypt, as well as the Middle East and India, thousands of years ago.
- 1927: Joseph Robinson files for a patent of a conceptual electronic vaporizer. It is unclear if a prototype was ever developed, and a device was never mass produced.
- 1963: Herbert Gilbert files a patent for an electronic vaporizer. Gilbert subsequently created multiple prototypes, but his idea was never commercialized.
- 1979: Computer pioneer Phil Ray and his physician Norman Jacobson successfully released the first commercial version of an electronic vaporizer device.
- 1990's: Multiple companies file an array of patents for electronic vaporizer devices, though few if any ever made it to market. The U.S. FDA took an antagonistic stance toward these early vaporizers, impeding their commercialization.
- 2003: Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik develops the Ruyan in Beijing, which would go on to be the first commercially successful electronic vaporizer. The Ruyan spurred many innovations and is responsible for kicking off the modern era of vaping.
- 2007: British entrepreneurs Tariq and Umer Sheikh develop the carboniser, which became a common component in many electronic cigarettes. The carboniser allowed for the first vape mods to be developed and soon these mods appeared in international markets.
- 2007: PAX Labs was founded. PAX would go on to release its first dry herb vaporizer, the PAX 1, in 2012. In 2016, PAX released the first PAX ERA, a vape system of vape pens and with pre-filled oils pods.
How does vaping look today?
Today, vaping is an activity enjoyed by millions of people around the world, with no shortages of devices to choose from. Compact and portable vaporizers are particularly popular in the emerging cannabis industry, with products like the PAX PLUS leading the way for use with both dry herb and concentrate materials. While electronic vaporizers were invented with a narrow use in mind, they’ve rapidly evolved to support a range of different uses for consumers of all preferences.