The Real History of Electronic Cigarettes

Filed in News & Politics by on October 17, 2013

history1Contrary to the popular claim that Hon Lik invented the first electronic cigarette in the year 2000, it was really Joseph Robinson in the year 1927 who introduced the first patented “Electric Vaporizer”.

New products are generally developed over many years; a process involving several people and a lot of paperwork. E cigs are no exception to that phenomenon; the idea has been around since the 1920’s. Since 1927, several patents have been filed with the USPTO for electronic vaporizing devices. However, the most well-known inventors are the ones we’re talking about today… J. Robinson, H. Gilbert, and H. Lik. For the past 86 years, electronic cigarettes have been developing into the interesting gadgets we see today – and the innovation continues!

Read on for an in-depth outline of the development of e cigs.


Joseph Robinson filed a patent for the first “Electric Vaporizer” in 1927. Here’s an excerpt from the original document:
1927 cig patent
“My invention relates to vaporizing devices for holding medicinal compounds which are electrically heated to produce vapors for inhalation, and to provide a device for individual use which may be freely handled without any possibility of being burned.” – Joseph Robinson, May 3, 1927, New York


In 1930, Robinson’s patent was approved and published by the USPTO.

While this device wasn’t invented as a tobacco alternative, its design is very similar to the more modern e cigs. We think Mr. Robinson deserves some credit!


In 1963, Herbert A. Gilbert’s patent for a “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” was filed in Pennsylvania

gilbert in 1960s“The present invention relates to a smokeless non-tobacco cigarette to provide a safe and harmless means for smoking by replacing burning tobacco with heated, moist, flavored air. Another object is to provide an article of manufacture resembling a cigarette by which air may be drawn through a porous substance of a cartridge which has been moistened with a chemically harmless flavoring preparation, heated by a suitable heating element. A further object is to suitably raise the temperature of the inhalant mixture, so that it may approximate that of cigarette smoke. A further object is to insulate the heat source so that the ‘cigarette’ may be held in the fingers without discomfort to the user’s hand.”


In 1965, Gilbert’s patent was officially issued by the USPTO

Gilbert’s invention was even featured in the December 1965 issue of Popular Mechanics
gilbert ad 1963
Like modern-day ecigarettes, these first two inventions combined heat, flavored liquid, smoke-like vapor, and a cigarette-like gadget.

Between 1965 and 2000, there were several more patents filed for electronic cigarette-esque products, but none really took off until Hon Lik had a dream in 2000…


hon lik“The idea of the electronic cigarettes came to me in a dream in 2000. Coughing and wheezing, I imagined I was drowning, until suddenly the waters around me lifted into a fog.” – Hon Lik


Let’s take a trip to China, circa 2003. Hon Lik’s father had just passed away, having given in to lung cancer. Lik was a heavy smoker just like his dad, and he wanted to avoid the same fate. So, he translated his dream of water turning to fog into a revolutionary invention: the electronic cigarette.
hon battery


In 2004, Hon Lik’s first patent was officially issued by the USPTO, placing the first modern ecigarette into the market.

“The present invention relates to an electronic atomization cigarette which contains nicotine without harmful tar. The electronic atomization cigarette includes a shell and a mouthpiece… The advantages of the present invention include smoking without tar, significantly reducing the carcinogenic risk. Furthermore, users still feel as if they are smoking and experiencing the same excitement, and the cigarette is no need to be lit and is no fire risk.”

Since being issued his first patent in 2004, Hon Lik has filed several more relating to e cigs.


Electronic cigarettes were first introduced for sale in Europe


Electronic cigarettes became available in the United States. One of the first American debuts was at the American Tobacco Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada where the e-cig won multiple awards.


The e-cig industry continues to grow exponentially, and will have contributed over $1.7 billion to the economy by the end of 2013. V2 Cigs is one of the leading e-cig brands, devoting ourselves to maintaining quality, innovation and transparency. Come visit our website and see what makes V2 Cigs a leader!

Read an interview from Herbert Gilbert here

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