Have you ever stopped to think about why a vape mod is called a “mod” in the first place? The history of vape mods is actually quite an interesting subject because mods as you know them might not exist at all if it weren’t for some key early contributions from members of the vaping community. Early vapers, you see, invented what we think of today as a mod. The major overseas vape gear manufacturers eventually took that concept and ran with it, but it didn’t happen right away.
For a while, it looked like mods were destined to remain niche products. The vape manufacturers concentrated for a long time on cigarette-shaped cigalikes and small vape pens, reasoning that those would always be the products that most mainstream vapers would use. It took the manufacturers a long time to catch up to the fact that cigalikes weren’t good for much aside from helping smokers with the initial transition to vaping. After new vapers completed that transition, they quickly began to want better equipment. Today, the standard box mod is as mainstream as any other type of vaping device – but it took a while for the vaping industry to get to that point.
This is the history of vape mods.
The Vaping Community Created the First Vape Mods
Let’s begin this history by examining the core question that’s probably on your mind: Why is a mod called a “mod” at all? The name seems to imply that something is being modified, but there’s nothing modified about today’s vape mods; they’re just off-the-shelf products that are made to order and ready to use.
The first vape mods, however, weren’t mass-produced products. Instead, they were hand built by members of the vaping community for their own personal use. Those early mods were all mechanical devices, which is to say that they contained no electronic components. They were built out of modified flashlight tubes – hence the name – and wooden boxes. An early vape mod was nothing more than threading for an atomizer, space for a battery and a button to activate the device.
A decade ago, mechanical mods made a lot more sense than they do today. A typical vape juice atomizer in those days might have a resistance of around 1.5 ohms, and the power requirements for those atomizers were nothing like the requirements of today’s power-hungry sub-ohm coils. Most importantly, the first mods allowed vapers to enjoy exponentially better performance than what they could get from the mass-produced vape juice available at the time.
The first generation of mods produced several developments that remain key parts of the vaping industry to this day.
- The first tube-shaped mods were made from repurposed flashlight tubes. The 18650 battery is the most popular type of rechargeable flashlight battery, so the first mods used 18650 batteries as well. The 18650 battery remains the most common battery for vaping today.
- Before the first home-made mods appeared, vape juice atomizers and cartomizers were available with several different types of threading. Most mods used the 510 threading style, though, and within a few years, virtually every thread type other than 510 had disappeared. Today, it’s hardly even necessary to use the term “510” anymore because it’s the industry standard for all tanks and atomizers.
- Members of the vaping community built the first box mods out of wooden boxes. Before the first box mods appeared, every vaping device more or less tried to mimic the shape of a cigarette or cigar. The vaping community invented the box mod, and every box mod that’s in production today owes its existence to those early mods.
Before long, some members of the vaping community realized that they could launch viable businesses building mods for people who didn’t have the necessary skills or equipment to build their own. For a while, small mod producers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere earned good money building premium vape mods for the public. That continued for a while, with some companies even adding power regulation and safety features to their devices. The manufacturers in China have never been ones to ignore a good opportunity, though, and it wasn’t long before Chinese-made vape mods began to flood the market.
Overseas Manufacturers Began to Produce Their Own Mods
When it became obvious that a significant percentage of the people who successfully quit smoking with vaping were eventually going to want to trade their cigalikes for larger mods, the manufacturers of vaping products in China realized that they were leaving a huge opportunity on the table if they didn’t start producing mods of their own. Many of the first Chinese-made mods were clones of American and European devices. Since it isn’t really possible to copyright or patent a metal tube with 510 threading and a button, it was possible to clone those early mods without fear of reprisal. The Chinese-made clones were significantly less expensive than the original devices, which sometimes cost upwards of $200.
Domestic makers of mods began to feel the sting of the clones almost right away. For a while, though, it was still completely viable to run a business as a mod maker. The clones were significantly cheaper, of course, but it must be said that most of the people who were buying those clones would never have bought the more expensive domestic versions of those devices anyway. Those who could afford to pay for the superior fit and finish of the domestic devices continued to do so.
Mechanical mods in general, however, were beginning to run out of time. When sub-ohm tanks began to really catch on in the mid-2010s, mechanical mods couldn’t satisfy the power requirements of those tanks without creating serious battery safety concerns. People began to demand mods with power regulation features. Vape mods would have to make the transition from mechanical devices to electronic devices.
Imports Began to Outpace Domestic Mods
In the age of the mechanical mod, the small vape businesses in the United States and Europe were truly the kings of the industry. The clone makers in China simply couldn’t match the precision machining and attention to detail of those early vape mods. That situation changed, though, when people began to demand power regulation features. The factories in Shenzhen manufacture the majority of the world’s consumer electronics – from smartphones to vape mods – and no one can match them when it comes to rapid product development, prototyping, manufacturing and iteration.
The earliest Chinese-made regulated vape mods were nothing to write home about compared to their domestic counterparts, but that was just the beginning. Within the first couple of years, Chinese-made vaping devices had already been through several product generations and were beginning to leave their competitors far behind.
These are just a few of the features that have been added to vape mods in the past several years since the Chinese manufacturers took over that segment of the industry.
- Full power regulation including support for variable wattage, variable voltage and custom wattage curve vaping modes.
- Temperature limiting for tanks and atomizers with stainless steel, titanium and nickel atomizer coils.
- Safety features including built-in monitoring for short circuits, overheating, unsafe currents, over-voltage and under-voltage.
- Luxury materials like leather, zinc, carbon fiber, copper, stabilized wood, resin and abalone shell.
Over successive product generations, Chinese-made devices didn’t just improve in terms of their outward appearance and in the length of their feature lists. The underlying technology also improved by leaps and bounds. Temperature detection became more accurate and safety features became more reliable. Most importantly, the Chinese manufacturers developed chipsets that eliminated lengthy ramp-up times and could make coils fire almost instantly at any wattage.
By the end of the 2010s, mechanical mods – and all mods produced outside China – had become virtually irrelevant. The Chinese-made vape mods were simply too good and too affordable for most people to consider buying anything else.
Pod Mods Signaled the Beginning of a New Generation of Vape Mods
As the 2020s began, the vaping industry was changing shape once again. For several years, box mods had been the cornerstone of the industry and were what most experienced vapers preferred to use. Many people, though, had begun to decide that they’d really rather not carry bricks in their pockets. In the mid-2010s, pod-based vaping devices were introduced and quickly replaced cigalikes as the preferred devices of new vapers. By the end of the decade, though, pod vaping systems had become so good that even long-term vapers were beginning to trade their vape mods for the small – but still very capable – pod-based devices.
When it became clear that pod-based devices were the perfect representation of where the vaping industry was heading, the manufacturers in China began to develop devices that combined pod-based e-liquid delivery with the more advanced features of mods – and that’s where the history of vape mods stands today.
Today’s pod mods offer features like variable wattage, automatic safety protection, huge selections of replaceable coils and more. They’re virtually indistinguishable from traditional box mods aside from the fact that they’re sleeker, nicer looking and more affordable than ever. It’s impossible to know what the coming years will bring, but for now, it’s nice to know that vaping technology is only moving in one direction – it’s getting better with each passing year.