The History Of Bongs & Water Pipes

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Bongs are the most popular form of smoke device on the planet. They have become so ingrained in smoking culture that many people name their bongs. And they are a pop culture staple, appearing everywhere from Fast Times At Ridgemont High to HBO’s Silicon Valley. Chances are very good that if you are reading this you own at least one bong.

Bongs today are both artistic and highly functional, featuring percolators, ice pinches and other advancements that make for cool, filtered hits. The best bongs are hand-blown glass by artists who blend science and art, creating masterpieces that are both beautiful and functional. But bongs have been around for thousands of years, and they have a rich history. Throughout its evolution the bong has been made from a range of materials including hand-carved wood, bamboo, ceramics, and even mud.

But where did bongs come from?  Who invented them?  And what where these early bong enthusiasts consuming with these early versions?  In this article we will take a look at the history of bongs and try to answer some of these questions.

Where Did Bongs Come From?

History of Bongs SmokeSmith Gear
Bongs and water pipes have been used for centuries in some form or another, which is evidence that smoking culture is both ancient and global. That said, the definitive origin of the bong is debatable. In fact, there are competing theories about who first used a bong.

Many believe bongs emerged from the Middle East, as modern bongs closely resemble the well-known hookah pipe. There is also evidence to suggest that the point of origin is Asia, as the word “bong” is a derivative of the Thai word “baung,” which refers to a round wooden tube made of bamboo.  The Chinese also used water-based smoking devices during the Ming Dynasty (1836-1644 A.D.). These contentions are supported by the fact that cannabis is native to parts of central Asia.

Still others argue that the first bongs were used in Africa.  Archaeologists have discovered large earth pipes built into the ground in certain remote parts of the eastern parts of Africa. Lighted embers were placed in a buried bottle made of animal horns and hemp was placed on top of the embers. An underground duct led from the chamber to a mouth tube a short distance away. These were basically oversized water bongs, which is quite amazing, given that this was happening nearly 1300 years ago.

Further muddying the waters, recent excavations in Russia show that the tribal chiefs of the nomadic Scyth tribe found solid gold bucket-shaped artifacts that tested positive for cannabis and opium, leading researchers to speculate these were “bongs.”  This is the earliest finding of ancient bong use. 

While the exact point of origin is difficult to pin down it is obvious that smoking devices of a variety of forms have been around for many centuries.

The Modern History Of Bongs

Bob Snodgrass Bong History SmokeSmith Gear
Bongs began to enter Western culture during the World War II period.  In 1944 word “bong” was used in the McFarland Thai-English Dictionary, which lists its uses as "smoking kancha, tree, hashish, or the hemp-plant." But it would take a few decades for bongs to truly become part of fabric of American society.

The first headshop in the United States opened in 1966 on San Francisco’s famed Haight Street, the epicenter of counterculture.  A few years later a man named Bob Snodgrass, who began designing bongs to fund his touring with the Grateful Dead. The bongs Snodgrass was making were the prototypes for what we think of as the bong today.

Eventually, Snodgrass settled in Eugene, Oregon and began perfecting his craft. He is credited with pioneering the process of “fuming” (coating the inside of the pipe with vaporized silver) and with inventing dichro glass. Influenced by the mind expansion of the hippie culture of the 1970s, his hallmark was colorful designs. The documentary film Degenerate Art documents the heady glass subculture that Snodgrass helped spread, and he is considered the "Godfather of artistic hard glass.

Snodgrass is still making bongs.  More importantly, he has influenced two generations of glass artists who today make an array of artistic glass bongs, water pipes, bubblers, dab rigs and hand pipes.  Bongs are more popular than ever. And there are so many options that a consumer can find anything he or she wants, from scientific glass bongs to more ornate, hand blown works of art.

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