By Arvid Sollom
The evolution of the vape world came from very humble beginnings. By the time I encountered my first electronic cigarette in 2009, years of change had already transpired since the modern version of the device’s inception around 2003 in China.
The technology started with a battery operated device, which used ultrasound via piezoelectric atomization, to produce the first puffs of nicotine laced vapor. Inspired by a dream of himself drowning in water which then turned into vapor, Hon Lik invented a modern marvel. Now, neither Hon Lik’s invention, nor the much earlier invention by Herbert A. Gilbert in the 1960’s, were heated, flavored, or really resemble our current atomizers, but they both had the same goal — to create a safer, more pleasurable alternative to smoking.
Early devices, like the Ruyan E-Gar, were bulky and produced weak vapor at best. It looked nothing like a cigarette, which kept the the device’s initial popularity low. By 2009, thanks to simplification of the atomizer elements, devices came down in size.
By using a switchable battery and a micro coil heating element instead of more complex electronics, devices dropped in size, coming close to actual cigarette dimensions finally. This made them recognizable, comfortable and relatively normal feeling. Their popularity surged.
My first encounter with an e-cig happened one evening in the back of a car on a ride to an out of town concert. A pale blue light surged in the dark back seat next to me and I watched in wonder as a near stranger blew out what appeared to be smoke from what was obviously not a lit cigarette. Like most folks on their first encounter, I was intrigued.
He showed me the two different devices he had with him at the time, what he called a two piece and a three piece device, vaguely explaining the differences between them. Both had batteries, both had heating elements. One had the heating element hidden inside the mouthpiece surrounded by liquid soaked material, and the other had a separate cartridge that came out of the atomizer to be refilled. The second one he showed how to remove the cartridge and drip a few drops of liquid into a ‘tail pipe’ to get a better puff. Later, I learned that the first was a cartomizer, most likely an 808, and the second was the 510, which was already becoming the dominant style.
Just Not Enough Power
After 40 plus hours of research and internet sleuthing over the next few days, I had sorted through what seemed like boundless options and decided on the Joyetech 510, as it appeared to have the best performance available at the time. There was a major limitation to the more compact nature though, namely battery life.
The first day I received my authentic 510 in the mail I laid down my cigarettes for the next 6 months. I had smoked every day since I was 16, never once trying to quit, and yet I was able to completely put them down thanks to a tiny heater with some flavored nicotine. I was damned impressed.
However, upon opening that first vape mail, I sat on my couch for the next 30 minutes, puffing as I “oohed and ahhed,” and suddenly the battery was dead. I was alarmed. Luckily the device came with two batteries. I knew they took over an hour to charge, yet it had only taken me 30 minutes to kill it the first time.
I dug back in researching and trying new devices. Finally, I started to understand what was going on in the device. A few adventurers online had started working on their own home-grown solutions and I knew I decided to try my hand at it. Mods they were called.
Mod, a Term Coined
Mod is a term with a very well-grounded reason for being. The devices were, in themselves, modifications; it’s as simple as that. They were not bought whole, but rather created by the hands of the user.
My earliest version was a simple modification of a battery box purchased at RadioShack, containing three rechargeable AA batteries in series which produced a much longer lasting and easily exchanged power source. I soon found other Modders using lithium batteries, which didn’t need to be wired in series and tended to power the atomizers much better — though not longer.
The little black battery box mod gained a following and one good tutorial gave them a name — NicoStick. It was a single 14500 lithium version, and later the Puckecig.com tutorial came online showing how to build the rechargeable AA version, as well. One of the first suppliers I found online, for e-cig building parts, Mad Vapes, sent me a free little flashlight in the package, which was powered by a single AAA battery. And just as the website owner had likely wanted, without saying a word, I modified that little plastic pocket light, put a 10440 battery in it and vaped away.
The Screwdriver and the ENDS
It wasn’t long before there was a demand for higher capacity devices. And where there is demand, there will be supply. Outside of a few random folks making the black box style Mods and selling them unofficially through online forums, there really was no device out there to fill the need. Until Trog came along that is.
As I heard the story told, Trog had found a cheap Chinese screwdriver which when disassembled, had the perfect space in it for a battery, switch and connector, and the Trog Screwdriver was born. He was able to produce a large enough number of these simple but wildly popular devices to begin a permanent change to the world of vaping.
Suddenly you could own a Mod without doing it yourself, or really having any contact with the builder. It was now a retail device. It was still considered a true Mod since it was reconfigured from components which were intended for other uses, but it was perhaps the first to begin crossing that line. Soon enough though, a near identical looking device called the 905 was released which capitalized on the form factor of the screwdriver but was built specifically, ground up, for use as a vape device.
At that point, the floodgates opened and endless versions were created. There were early debates on what qualified as a “mod.” Could you buy a mod ready to go? Did it count if you modified the look only? Discussion threads began separating between aesthetic mods vs real mods vs… well what do we call them? PV or Personal Vaporizer as a term just never caught hold. APV, advanced personal vaporizer, had a run as a term, used for devices that had more complexity such as voltage control, but it just didn’t sound cool.
The scientific world tried to call the general devices ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems), but the public responded by joking that they were really just a PENIS (Personal Electronic Nicotine Inhalation System) so nothing stuck — except Mod.
Now, every vaper, young and old, uses the term or at least recognizes it. Lost in meaning and ill-defined the Mod lives on and is used by millions, even if only few actually know where the term originated.