The history of the E-cigarette is a mixed one. Widely believed to have been invented in 2003 by a pharmacist in Beijing named Hon Lik after his father died of lung cancer, it seems that a device very similar was actually patented as far back as 1965 in America by a Herbert Gilbert. The problems with tracing who originally thought of the modern e-cigarette stem from the fact that like cars or computers the basic components of an e-cigarette are always going to be the same; a mouthpiece, a cartridge (tank), a heating element/atomizer, a battery, and possibly a LED light on the end. This is because the basic idea is always going to be the same – how to smoke, without smoking!
In 1965 Herbert Gilbert was a heavy smoker and even without the wide spread information and dire warnings you find on packets of cigarettes nowadays he realized that when you burn things like leaves and wood in your back garden or even lettuce leaves, cinnamon and bark, the resulting smoke is not something you wanted to be breathing into your lungs. This was essentially what you were doing with a cigarette – never mind all the nasty chemicals that are also hidden away in there.
The Inspiration Behind The E Cigarette
His idea was sparked by his aunt’s bakery. Bread and biscuits were made from flour and cooked in fire but the resulting aroma was a delicious treat you most definitely did want to breath into your lungs. The difference, he concluded, was that the flour was baked, not burnt. Also, he remembered how a pot of tea was brewed, another ‘leaf’ that was ‘cooked’ but had a pleasing aroma that was pleasant to breathe in. He needed to find a way to replace the burning of the tobacco and paper in a cigarette with heated, flavoured air – no combustion.
Herbert Gilbert only had the technology that was available in 1963 and he build the first electronic cigarette prototype with a battery powered heat source and flavoured water heated into steam. It worked. This device produced flavored steam but without nicotine.
50 Years On…
Todays e-cigarettes take full advantage of modern technology, using microprocessors. LED lights, flavour enhancers and vapour production systems to perfectly mimic or exceed a smoker’s experience of actually smoking a traditional cigarette. Simply the massive choice of flavours and the control a user has on his/her tobacco content is something that Herbert Gilbert would probably never have envisioned 50 years ago.
Ahead of his time and having just developed a serious competitor to the massive and powerful tobacco industry of the era his invention was never followed up, but although technology has advanced a lot since the 60’s the basic building blocks from Gilbert’s first design are all there in today’s e-cigarettes. They may come in different sizes, have components in a different position or be controlled slightly differently from the original prototype design but if you remove any part of Herbert Gilberts original patent from a modern day e-cigarette it will not work.