History of the Bong
Many believe the water pipe was a fancy upgrade to rolled cigarettes, invented during the hippie era. While glass water pipes certainly gained popularity in the western world during that time, the water pipe itself actually has roots that go back long before the Vietnam War, or even the founding of Vietnam itself.
Current discoveries have dated the earliest found water pipe at roughly 2400 years ago, which were solid gold and used by Scythian tribal chiefs who dwelt in and around the land of modern-day Russia. From previous discoveries, we know that ancient water pipes were used in parts of Africa and central Asia for centuries before they were given the classic name of “buang” describing the Thai bamboo pipes used in the 16th century. This is where we derive the English version of the water pipe from, which are also known as “bongs”.
With the benefit of the Silk Road, water pipes made their way to China and were frequently enjoyed by Chinese royalty. They became highly popular for smoking tobacco during the Qing Dynasty by royals and lay people alike. Empress Dowager Cixi was one ruler who preferred water pipes, and was even buried with a few of her favorites when she died in the early 1900’s.
During the 1960’s and 70’s, Bob Snodgrass became the godfather of modern-day water pipes as he invented the fuming technique that gives pipes their characteristic psychedelic colors. They appealed to a wide-range of people, and the rest is history. The movement was greatly disrupted, however, when U.S. laws passed in 2003 made the sale and/or transport of “drug paraphernalia” illegal. Many shops were shut down and online sales plummeted. Currently, water pipes are strictly sold for tobacco use only.
Today, there is a plethora of water pipes available for every taste and budget. Glass is the preferred type among most users, but silicone pipes have brought a more modern upgrade to the water pipe world. Even some pipe makers have turned to the ancient world for inspiration and have started experimenting with metal pipes again. Who knows, we may even see gold pipes re-emerge after a 2,000-year hiatus! Another material seen more frequently in the construction of today’s water pipes that may have inspiration from pipes of old is wood, as seen here in the Marley Natural Glass Water Pipe Bong.
Right now, extreme users can make their own pipes out of just about anything they have lying around. Sometimes in desperation, and sometimes just to be funny or add flavor to a hit, users will craft a pipe out of fruit or vegetables. As a tribute to these innovators, some glass makers include those various objects into their creations, like this clever design.
Not only have water pipes evolved in terms of construction material and design, but also in efficiency and accessories. Many designs now include built-in percolators to achieve maximum smooth hits. Recycler designs have also become extremely popular for their smooth deliveries. As the industry continues to expand in the west, we look forward to seeing more creative pipes produced by artists and inventors who’s goal it is to prefect this time-honored tradition.
- Andrew Grafeman