The History Of The Bong - Who What Where When?
Bongs. Bubblers. Water pipes. Whatever you call them, if you are a cannabis enthusiast, there's a high probability a bong is stashed away in a cupboard close by.
Hitting the western mainstream in the early 1970s, ingenious stoners have been making bongs out of pretty much anything they can get their hands on since David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, and The Carpenters reigned supreme.
But, the history of bongs stretches back millennia. And to say this history is a fascinating look at human culture and society would be just a slight understatement.
So, in the words of Cypress hill - pack it, pack it, fire it up, come along - as we take a deep dive into the chequered and captivating history of the bong.
Who Invented The First Bong?
Up until just less than a decade ago, it was wrongly believed that the very first water filtering pipe (AKA bong) originated in Africa.
Archeological digs in both the southern and eastern regions of the continent had been gifting the researchers gorgeously preserved bongs for a few decades, with these finds dating back to around the 1100 AD mark.
But the African theory was ripped to shreds when, in 2013, Russian archaeologists uncovered a pretty startling find, and one they certainly were not expecting. While carefully digging up a Scythian burial mound they stumbled across the oldest example of a bong that has ever been unearthed.
How Old Is The Oldest Bong?
This find didn't just backdate the age of the first bong by a few decades or even a couple of centuries.
Nope, these Scythian bongs date back to 4 centuries before the birth of Jesus - or about 1500 years earlier than the oldest African examples.
What Were These Bongs Originally Made From?
The Scythians were a nomadic people, with conquering and marauding high on their list of priorities.
But don't get them confused for a bunch of traipsing gypsies, just scraping a measly existence out of a harsh land. Think of them more like horseback Vikings.
The Scythians ruled vast swathes of eastern Europe and Asia for more than 1000 years, and with that power came untold riches.
While firsthand recorded history of this group is almost non-existent, there are a few resources we can look to when trying to understand exactly how they lived.
One is the true opulence found in these burial mounds. Bursting with gold jewelry, Scythian burials spared no expense. And the same can be said for their smoking pieces.
The two bongs that were found during this excavation were both made from - you guessed it - solid gold..
Not only were they made from the highest value material available at the time, they were also covered in stunning depictions of the goings on of Scythian lives.
We can assume that the very first bongs were most likely not smelt from solid gold, but more likely are an evolution following on from wooden and clay braziers that have also been found in Scythian archeological sites.
Bongs In Recent History
When discussing bongs in the modern day, we have to look back to the Vietnam war. Western forces used Thailand as their main strategic base and as a spot for the soldiers to relax and recuperate.
It was in Thailand that American GIs first stumbled across bamboo bongs being used by the locals to smoke high-grade Thai Stick weed.
The returning soldiers brought these bongs back to the west, and it didn't take long at all before they were popping up all over.
The word bong comes directly from the Thai word “buong”, which just proves how influential this movement was on western cannabis culture.
When Did They Start Making Glass Bongs?
Bongs hit the mainstream in the 70s, and glass bongs soon followed, thanks to a couple of enterprising individuals who were keen on experimentation. Glass bongs started appearing almost as soon as their bamboo counterparts began making waves.
There was already a boom in glass manufacturing happening at the time, and Bob Snodgrass - an American glass lampworker - saw the potential of the material in use with bongs and pipes.
This was coupled with his accidental discovery of color-changing glass, which only made the idea of glass smoke pieces even more desirable to the masses.
While Bob didn't release the first glass bong, he is credited with being the man who brought them to the masses - again, accidentally.
As a traveling deadhead (superfan of the band The Grateful Dead), he had all the customers he could ever need at his fingertips, and his one-of-a-kind glass bongs quickly became heavily sought after.
Legal Issues with Bongs
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for bong enthusiasts or manufacturers. In 2003, bongs and bong manufacturing equipment were effectively made illegal across the United States with the passage of the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act.
The law was designed to crack down on the manufacture and sale of crystal meth, but bongs were caught in the crossfire due to their use in smoking illegal substances.
It is currently legal to purchase bongs online, but you still need to be careful about what you buy and where you buy it from. In some states bongs are still illegal, so be sure to check your local laws before making a purchase.
Bongs Going Forward
Thanks to the global push towards recreational and medicinal cannabis, the image problem that once plagued the bong and the people who use them is slowly fading away.
Once seen as a sign of someone really didn't have their shit together, bongs have been making a healthy resurgence in the past decade or so.
Today bongs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are made from almost every material under the sun. Imaginative stoners have always loved to test out different bong setups, from the ridiculous to the truly sublime.
Gravity bongs, bongs made from fruit of all kinds, discreet bongs that pass as household items, the list is truly never-ending.
But in this brave new world of cannabis legality, that list just keeps on growing.