The oldest “bong-like” invention discovered with cannabis residue was found in Africa by J.C. Dombrowski - These crude contraptions were created using lit coals placed in a bottle buried in the ground, with cannabis placed on top of the coals. The smoke reached the mouth tube through an underground duct that was a considerable distance away from where the pipe lay below the ground.
However, the earliest known hand-held bongs were discovered in a cave in Ethiopia, dating between 1100 and 1400 CE. A total of 11 bongs were found throughout the cave, many created using repurposed animal horns and pottery. In Russia, Scythian’s began gathering around the humble water pipe some 2400 years ago. A bong was discovered in an excavation of a Russian kurgan providing evidence of Scythian tribal chiefs using gold bongs to smoke cannabis and opium.
Throughout the late Ming Dynasty via Persia and Silk Road water pipes were introduced, going on to become the preferred method to consume tobacco by the Qing Dynasty. Empress Dowager Cixi, was even discovered buried with her three prized bongs when she died in the early 1900’s (a woman after our own heart). There were two types of water pipes popularized by the Qing dynasty: the homemade bamboo bong used by country people or “commoners” and an elegant metal version employed by Chinese urbanites, merchants and nobility such as Empress Dowager Cixi. These were metal utensils typically constructed out of bronze brass or silver (depending on social standing) and decorated with jewels. The word bong comes from the Thai word, “bang,” which refers explicitly to the bamboo bongs prevalent in Central Asia in the 16th century, where the first written records of the bong were discovered.
Following the European settlement in America, the bong industry grew on Silk Road as tobacco became a significant economic driver, eventually becoming popularized in America throughout the 60’s and 70’s as the glass industry grew in tandem. Bob Snodgras a modern-day bongioneer designed glass bongs across the country, eventually settling in Eugene, Oregon where he invented the fuming process using gold and silver to color borosilicate glass, creating the psychedelic aesthetic that is still popular throughout cannabis culture today. Modern bongs use borosilicate glass technique as the standard because of the high heat resistance, making them more durable and preventing the glass from cracking. Boroglass is also non-toxic (lead-free, BPA free, and hypoallergenic) cleanable and corrosion resistant. Due to its medical grade quality, it has even made its way into modern vaporizer designs. Applying this specialty technique to the bong effectively revolutionized the industry. Glass blowing as an art form and boro specialists prospered with headships popping up in metropolitan areas across North America.
The bong industry in America flourished until 2003 when the US Government invested 12 million dollars funding a campaign banning bong sales and shutting down retailers and online vendors, effectively snuffing out a $1 billion a year industry. Bong sales have slowly made a resurgence within recreationally legalized states and countries since and are now sold in non-legalized locations in headships across North America, marketed as “water pipes” specifying their tobacco usage to avoid legal penalties. Many head shops in these areas will not serve customers who use the word “bong” or “bongs.
Meanwhile in Canada, the first cannabis accessory retailer “Gandalf’s” opened in 1965 originally located in Yorkville - Toronto’s hippie mecca, eventually relocating 6 months later to 98 Collard Street under the registered company name “The Head Shop”. Owner Laurence Cherniak (author of The Great Books of Hashish) began selling pipes and bongs to the counterculture masses, defiantly proclaiming that his wares were to be used for cannabis only (not tobacco) a far cry from our neighbours to the south.
By the 1980’s countless head shops dotted the stretch between Bloor and Queen, so many so that the police morality unit lacked the labour force to extinguish them one by one and resorted to sending letters alerting shop owners of their (newly) illegal practices under PM Brian Mulroney’s “bong and literature law.” In 1988, Section (462.2) of the Criminal Code outlawed “the manufacture, sale or promotion of instruments or literature for illicit drug use.” Mulroney’s literature ban was repealed after Terry Parker, who applied to an Ontario court to use marijuana as medicine for his epilepsy challenged the constitution.
Now that you know a little more about the origin story of the bong, shop some of our best-sellers in stores and online to keep this ancient tradition alive. Once you’ve selected your weapon of choice, check out our DIY bong cleaning blog
to keep your bubbler sparkling clean. Enjoy Respectfully, Consume Responsibly.