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The History of the Bong

By Brad N January 30, 2020

The History of the Bong

Mankind has scored many great achievements throughout its existence, from inventing fire to building wheels, factories, cars, planes, heavy machinery… and the bong, of course!

While generally considered a relatively new invention, bongs had accompanied humans long before modern times. In fact, large pipes for smoking cannabis were used as early as in Ancient Asia.

The origins of glass also date back to these times, so why did we have to wait so long for these two to get shaped into one brilliant smoking accessory?

A call of luck? Coincidence?

Call it as you want, but the fact is bong are anything but new to the cannabis culture. The history of the bong is an interesting one, so let’s shed some light on it.

We’ll start with the origins glass, shall we?

When and Where Was Glass Invented?

Glass is a natural material that can be found around volcanoes and obsidian as cooling lava. The first historical reports point to Mesopotamia as its place of birth, precisely around 2500–1500 BCE. The Mesopotamian civilization used glass to create jewellery — mostly colorful beads which they later formed into different shapes and styles.

However, the art of glassblowing emerged in the Hellenistic period of Ancient Rome. The Romans were blowing glass using different mosaic techniques called “millefiori” to create unique patterns for jewellery and pottery. The millefiori technique was completely abandoned by the 18th century, but it made its return a hundred years later. Millefiori translates to “thousand flowers” in Italian. This technique paved the way for the popular implosion-style marbles that you can find on many bongs today.

The Origins of the Bong

The ritual of smoking dry herbs was known to the people of Central Asia and Africa. However, recent excavation findings in Russia suggest that the tribal chieftains of the Iranian-Eurasian Scythe tribe once smoked weed out of a golden bong around 2400 years ago.

This is the earliest historical proof of ancient bong use. Before that, the earliest known bongs were found in Ehiopian graves from around 1400 CE. Archeologists found 11 bongs inside the graves, many of which were extended underground to filter and cool the smoke.

So how were the Ethiopian bongs made? They were very simple devices, actually. Ancient bongs were made from ducts and bottles made out of animal horns and basic pottery, resembling what we know today as the “gravity bong.”

The Origins of the Bong

The History of the Bong in China

The use of bongs got very popular in Central Asia in the 16th century. The word “bong” means “buang” in Thai, which specifically describes bamboo bongs that were common in Central Asia.

According to one theory, bongs owe their fame to the Ming Dynasty in China, which introduced the use of water in bongs. That technique of smoking dry herbs further spread throughout the Silk Road. One of the Chinese regents during the Quing Dynasty — Empress Dowager Cixi — was found buried with three bongs.

Imagine what an herbal aficionado she must have been!

Does That Mean Bongs Used Various Mechanisms throughout Their History?

It seems so.

Back before the natives in Central Asia decided to pour water into the bong, people have been using large pipes for smoking weed quite regularly. “Dry” bongs were actually popular in every ancient civilization., including Egypt, Arabia, India, Nepal, China, or Thailand. They were made out of virtually every natural material that could be shaped into a bowl with a mouthpiece. In Asian countries, people originally used wooden pipes for smoking weed.

India, on the other hand, has a long relationship with a pipe model known as chillum. The chillum is a conical pipe made from clay, which you pack with your herbs at one end, and suck the smoke at another.

Finally, countries like Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were famous for hookahs, also known as the “shisha”. These water pipes are the closest to the bong as we know it today. They include water filtration, but you don’t inhale the smoke straight from the mouthpiece — you generally use a fiber-made hose pipe to inhale the smoke from the chamber.

The Emergence of the Glass Bongs Industry

The culture of smoking weed has gone a long way from how it looked during the times of the Silk Road to how people use them today in Europe and America.

When tobacco became a cash crop following the European colonization of America, the bongs became even more popular. At the same time, the glass industry was peaking, especially with the glass lamp shades invented by Louis Comfort Tiffany that stormed the industry in the 19th century. However, the real boom happened in the 20th century when the first glass bongs were introduced between the 1960s and 1970s.

The man responsible for the great bong movement was Bob Snodgras, who quickly became the symbol of glass bongs across the United States during his time with the Grateful Dead on one of their tours. After that, Snodgras moved to Eugene, Oregon, employing an apprentice, Hugh Sellkind.

Snodgras made his bongs with borosilicate glass, which is the purest and most durable form of glass. He also came up with fuming — the process that uses gold and silver to put colors on borosilicate glass.

The borosilicate bong conquered the American market; sturdy glass water pipes could be seen at the forefront of every head shop in the States. By the late ‘90s, cannabis activist Tommy Chong joint the market launching his own brand of signature bongs.

It was the beginning of the golden era for the bong.

Until the 2003 crisis.

The Emergence of the Glass Bongs Industry

The Bong Crisis

In 2003, the US government invested around 12 million dollars to run an aggressive campaign against bongs trying to ban their sale. As a result, 55 retailers were forced to shut down their businesses, being charged with selling “drug paraphernalia”. Most “Chong Bongs” were also confiscated at the time, and all online stores were quickly removed from the web before they even had the chance to spread their wings. It’s worth noting that the bong industry was estimated to be worth nearly 1 billion dollars a year at that time.

The History of the Bong: The Present & Future

Fortunately, the dak times have passed and bongs received the second life they so much deserved. Pipes and bongs are now sold as tobacco accessories. Of course, nobody’s going to ask you what you’re planning to use the bong for.

Pipes and bongs have come a long way from what they looked like in ancient civilizations. They evolved from simple wooden pieces to modern glass bongs with complex percolating systems and lots of attachments to use. Some bongs are considered pieces of art, whereas others have a more scientific appearance. The next step forward in the evolution of the bong is strongly associated with dab rigs, which are water pipes designed specifically for concentrate consumption.

If you don’t know where to start, check out the selection of bongs at FatBuddhaGlass. We offer water pipes in different shapes, styles, designs, and with various functions to match different types of consumer. There’s also a plethora of accessories you can add to your bong, so feel free to explore your options!


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